A Nation Built On Child Abuse Is Nothing To Celebrate

Native and First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people throughout North America tell us they are in mourning. 

A Penobcot elder I respect has asked us (white people) not to celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4 today, but instead wear orange* and to remember and grieve the unmarked graves of children starved or otherwise tortured to death in “Indian” residential schools. 

Many residential “schools” were run by the Catholic Church in what is now Canada, or other churches — even Quakers. 

Michael YellowBird

October 4, 2018  · Carlisle, PA  · The jail/stockade at Carlisle Indian boarding school, where Native American child were locked up for various minor infractions, like “stealing” food from the kitchen because they were so hungry from starvation diets; or running away because they wanted to go home…prisoners in the US war to “Kill the Indian and save the Man.”

The U.S. was also full of such torture organizations and will soon have its share of discoveries as modern technology is applied to find the mass burials of evidence. 

The campaign to “kill the Indian to save the child” was fundamental to the attempted genocide of Native and First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in order to steal their land, water, and food. 

The widespread and continued sexual enslavement and related murder of Native girls and women is also a vicious expression of the colonization project on this continent. This continues around oil pipeline construction projects to this day, and at times we wear read and call attention to the brutal risks of being female and Native. Here in Maine I remember particularly Passamoquoddy elder Peter Francis, beaten to death by white hunters from Massachusetts as he defended Native teen girls from being raped by the intruders.

How many of the dead children were conceived during rape of girls in the residential schools? Priests who raped and otherwise abused children were protected by patriarchy, a system of top down authority that silences all but the most powerful.

Because I live in what’s now called Maine and taught high school for many years I have studied and taught about the work of the Maine-Wabanaki Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission which convened to study a local and fairly recent aspect of cultural genocide. The painful stories of children removed from their own homes and put into often abusive foster “care” were given space for expression by the TRC, and the excuses and self-criticism of the social workers who carried out child removals were included. The report issued by the TRC shocked me. This was happening right nearby while I attend Bowdoin College in the 1970’s studying history in Maine; why was I never taught about it?

Because the patriarchal system exists to enable abuse by patriarchs, then and now.

As white people we can witness the truth which it has cost so much pain to uncover.

We can reflect on how we, personally, have benefited from genocide against Native people. We can start to decolonize our thinking by examining beliefs taught to us in order to cloud our vision and our judgement. We can listen to Native people when they demand tribal sovereignty and a return of their lands and waters.

What better hope for our moral growth than to examine these ugly, hidden truths and to teach about them?

What better hope for the survival of human beings on planet Earth than to listen and follow the wisdom of indigenous people about how to live sustainably with reverence and respect for all our relations?

*Why wear orange? Here’s why:

Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story in her own words…


Instead of celebrating Canada’s Land Day this year, First Nations people held this ceremony of mourning:


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