MISSION, SD (AP) — After her mother died when Rosalie Cyclone Soldier was four, she was sent to a Native American boarding school in South Dakota and told her native Lakota was “Devil’s Language”.
She recalled being locked in a basement in St. Petersburg. Francis Indian Mission School has been penalized for weeks for violating the school’s strict rules. Her long braids were cut in a deliberate attempt to remove her cultural identity. When she broke her leg in an accident, Whirlwind Soldier said she received shoddy care that left her sore and limp, and she’s still limping decades later.
“I don’t think there is a God, there is only torture and hatred,” the cyclone soldiers testified Saturday at an event on the Rosebud Su reservation led by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Harland, as the institution faces the painful legacy of the boarding school system in the U.S. more than one century.
The now 78-year-old cyclone soldier, who still lives on the reservation, said she was preaching about her horrific experiences, which she hopes will eventually be freed.
“The only thing they didn’t do was put us in (the oven) to refuel us,” she said, comparing the treatment of Native Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries to the Holocaust during World War II.
“But I let it go,” she added later. “I will make it.”
Saturday’s event was the third in Harland’s year-long “Path to Healing” initiative for victims of government-backed boarding school abuse, after stops in Oklahoma and Michigan.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States developed laws and policies that established and supported schools. The stated goal is to “civilize” Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians, but this is often achieved through abusive behavior. Religious and private institutions that run many schools receive federal funding and are willing partners.
Most closed a long time ago, and there isn’t one that can take away student status. But some people, including St. Francis still operates like a school – albeit with a very different mission to celebrate the cultural background of local students.
ex st. Francis’ student Ruby Left Hand Bull Sanchez drove hundreds of miles from Denver to attend Saturday’s meeting. She cried as she recalled being nearly killed as a child, when a nun shoved lye soap down her throat in response to Sanchez’s prayer in her native language.
“I want the world to know,” she said.
Accompanying Harland was Wizipan Garriott, member of Rosebud Sioux and Principal Deputy Assistant Minister for India. Garriott describes how boarding school became part of a long history of injustice against his people, beginning with the widespread extinction of their main food source, the bison, also known as the buffalo.
“First they took our buffalo. Then our land was taken, then our children, then our traditional forms of religion, spiritual practices,” he said. “It’s important to remember that we Lakotas and other Indigenous people are still here. We can go through anything.”
The Home Office’s first volume of its investigative report, released in May, identified more than 400 federally supported boarding schools, which began in the late 1800s and continued through the 1960s. It also found that at least 500 children died in some schools, although that number is expected to increase dramatically as the study continues.
The National Alliance for Native American Residential School Therapy said it counts about 100 schools that are not on the government’s list and are run by groups such as churches.
“They all have the same mission, the same goal: ‘Kill the Indians, save the human race,'” said Lacey Kinnatt, who works for the Minnesota Union. For Native American children, Kinnat said, the purpose was to “assimilate them and steal everything from them Indians except their ancestry, make them despise who they are, their culture, and forget their language. “
There are 31 schools in South Dakota, two of which are located at Rosebud Sioux Reservation – St. Francis and Rosebud Institutional Boarding and Day School.
The Rosebud Agency School in Mission has been operating since at least 1951 at what is now the Sinte Gleska University, where Saturday’s meetings take place.
According to tribe members, all that remains of the boarding school is a dilapidated building that once housed a canteen. When the building caught fire about five years ago, former student Patty Romero, 73, said she and others cheered its devastation.
“There are no more worms in the peppers,” said Romero, who attended the school from age 6 to 15, and said the food sometimes haunts.
A second report is pending into the investigation of the school initiated by Harland, himself from Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, and the first Native American cabinet secretary. It will cover the impact of cemeteries, schools on Indigenous communities and try to illustrate the use of federal funding for distressed programs.
Congress is considering a bill to create a “truth and recovery commission” for boarding schools, similar to one created in Canada in 2008. If passed, it would be broader than the Home Office’s investigation into federally run boarding schools and subpoena powers.
This story has been corrected to refer to Rosalie Cyclone Soldier accurately.