“This building was classrooms, and the house next door had a dining room,” Talahongwa said as he walked towards a small exhibition space set up in his building. Showcases with books from the 60s and 70s and class photos from the early 20th century are hung on the wall. The faces are clearly the original people of America, but the children are wearing Western clothes.
“Their hair was cut here, they were not allowed to speak their own language and their religions were banned.” She talks about the time her grandmother was in school, around 1900. “She’s been here twelve years. At that time she did not see her father and mother. You could not go home because you were mistreated for speaking your own language. That’s a part of life here.”
The school operated for almost a hundred years from 1891 to 1990, and is one of 350 such boarding schools in the United States. The goal was brutal and simple: “Kill the Indian, save the man,” says Talahongwa. “That was the goal of the American federal government. We had to lose our identity and unite in Western civilization.”
In late May, the bodies of 215 children were found at the site of a former boarding school in Kamloops, Canada. The graves are unnamed and it is believed that the deaths of the children were never documented. Canada was shocked, especially when radar soil surveys also found hundreds of bodies on two boarding school grounds.
Native Native Americans in Canada were less surprised; Stories about missing children are well known. But the findings raise the question of what awaits Canada. Soil research is still being carried out on dozens of former school grounds.
“For the first time in history, the United States has a minister of Native descent,” Hollande responded to the findings in Canada. “My own ancestors now went through the policy of integration carried out by the ministry under me. The ministry that tried to eradicate our culture, our language and our people.”
Determining the full size
Hollande called the trial difficult and painful. “All the documents available so far on the boarding school program have not been collected and analyzed to determine its full purpose and lasting impact.” But the U.S. government wants to do this because not all wounds have healed yet, Hollande said.
Rosalie Talahongwa agrees, but with skepticism in her voice. The shock of what was discovered in Canada and the idea that an investigation would be carried out at the Phoenix Indian School was even greater. “It’s very difficult. Because soon you’ve made a discovery here, but then it starts. Who are these children, what tribe are they from? These are very complex questions that will not be answered.”
Talahongwa is convinced of the potential significance of these findings. He says it may be time to tell the true story of Native Americans. “If there is a real understanding of who we are in society, if we can teach that history about the traumas we carry, the recovery process can really begin.”
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