America’s 19th-century “war” against Native American children entered a new chapter of disgust and dismay Tuesday with the release of an extensive report entitled “Federal Indian Schools in Colorado, 1880-1920.”
The report said that abductions, kidnapping, probable murders and possible rapes of Native American children occurred into the 20th century, thanks to U.S. government policy.
The horrible findings in Canada in 2021, whereby more than 200 remains were found in western Canada and hundreds of children were believed murdered, were continued by Tuesday’s report released by History Colorado, a state agency dedicated to preserving Colorado’s history and exposing its historical flaws.
Perhaps the greatest flaw was its continuing assault against Native American tribes, who had lived in the Centennial State for thousands of years.
“For the first time, Colorado details dark historical chapter of attempted forced assimilation of Indigenous children in an extensive report,” Colorado Public Radio (CPR) said Tuesday of the 139-page report released by state archaeologist Holly Norton.
Using ground-penetrating radar, the new findings of the abuses children suffered at Native American boarding schools in Colorado identified at least 65 students who died and were buried more than a century ago at the state’s two most prominent schools.
For more than 150 years, spurred by federal assimilation policies beginning in the 19th century, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were sent to boarding schools nationwide. In many cases, they were forcibly removed from their homes, a New York Times report stated two months ago.
The report added that these efforts toward assimilation were directly aided and abetted by several Christian churches and denominations in Colorado and across the country, who also received government payoffs.
One of the most disturbing parts of Tuesday’s report re-stated the conduct of Thomas Breen, superintendent of one of Colorado’s most prominent institutions, the Fort Lewis school.
Breen, who ran the school in the early 20th century, was accused of sexual abuse of children and staff for many years. “He was accused of impregnating some, and then sending them away from campus,” CPR said, noting that “Breen’s actions were exposed a century ago by the Denver Post” but that he was superintendent for nearly a decade before being fired.
“The story of the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School under Breen and the failure of the federal government to protect Native children is a microcosm of the deep neglect that was visited on the children by the government throughout the entirety of the school system,” Norton wrote in her report.
Moreover, the report pointed out that in the country’s dark history, the word “education” was only used to belie the true motivation of erasing Native cultures from the United States.
Efforts at education throughout the 19th century and into the 20th were aimed at destroying Native culture, the report said, noting destroying Native culture “was the means to an end, the end being the destruction of the American Indian as a legal identity.”
“Education in this context, then, was not about reading, writing, and arithmetic but about severing Native people’s ties to their traditional knowledge systems and instilling them in Euro-American ideals of religion, labor, private property, and even family dynamics” it added.
“It’s a history that needs to be told,” Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren told CPR. “Many Navajo children were at Colorado institutions. There are times when we advocate for our communities and our nations, and all we want is to be part of a society that can be able to take care of themselves. But in order to do that, we have to acknowledge the past. Native people, Ute people, Navajo people, have sacrificed so much.”
Of all the tribes, Norton noted, the Utes in Colorado were very distrustful of the schools and were largely successful in resisting efforts to enroll their children.
On Monday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis “privately showed his respect at the former site of the Indian Boarding school” at Fort Lewis, according to his staff.
He also visited the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal councils, related to the release of Norton’s report. Polis declined media interviews about the discussions or the state’s next steps toward reconciliation.