California lawmaker demands answers in deadly Native American residential school system
The US federal government is investigating his story of Indigenous children who were taken from their families and forced into boarding school. More than 350 of these establishments will be examined, including nearly 10 in California. This comes after the remains of over 1000 Indigenous children from across Canada have been found in former state-sanctioned residential schools.
California Assembly Member James C. ramos, who represents a large portion of San Bernardino County and is a member of the San Manuel Mission Indian Band, presented A resolution to the state legislature in support of the federal inquiry. KCRW talks to him about his efforts.
KCRW: What is the Federal doing Indian Residential Schools Initiative purpose to find out?
James C. Ramos: “In Indian country we talked about this era of residential schools and the dark times it meant for our people. … Native American students who were sent to residential schools during this time succumbed to death. Families still talk about it on reserves that their family members went to these residential schools and never came home. They were never given a clear answer as to what really happened to them during that time.
Some say accidents happened while they were working. But there was always this other idea that there had probably been an assault. But when the people died, there was never an investigation to clearly show how they died, and the families were [not] advised that a funeral had taken place. [That’s why] all of the cemeteries are from some of the residential schools there.
These schools, which existed in the 19th and 20th centuries, were sanctioned by the federal government. Why were these children taken from their communities and put into schools?
“There was [an] Indian Civilization Act which was proposed by the federal government which took the Indians, the students [and] children far from home to assimilate them and remove their language. They couldn’t even [speak] their language or practice their customs or cultures.
This is what these boarding schools [had] Finished. And it was under the slogan “Kill the Indian, save the man”. … And some were resistant to this change. We believe this investigation will uncover what really happened during this time not only for Indians but for the rest of the United States. … We see it unfolding in Canada. That same type of story is going to unfold here in the United States.
The Sherman Institute and the Indian Industrial School of Saint-Boniface in Riverside County are among the schools to be surveyed. What do you think the investigators will find?
“My grandmother went to Saint-Boniface. [After] she was sent there, she couldn’t speak the [native] language and could not keep up with the culture.
When they start to investigate the files, they will identify the members who were there from different tribes. They will also begin to identify those in the cemeteries and hopefully this will lead to a better account of what really happened.
The Sherman Indian School is still operating today. It’s ironic because Sherman Indian High School currently reports to the Bureau of Indian Education. For many in Indian country, it serves as [a] a ray of hope in ensuring that our students now graduate from high school.
Is looking in these schools enough to face the atrocities?
“I think more needs to be done. Once we have identified these areas, we need to be able to educate everyone who is here in the United States and the State of California. Then we talk about the issues we are currently facing with Indigenous women missing and murdered at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.
The legislature is moving forward with your measure to add a Native American monument where a statue of Junipero Serra, the founder of the state’s mission system once stood. What kind of impact do you think this will have?
“It’s a big impact. Recognizing a horrific past here in the state of California begins with exploring the Spanish missionary system which viewed California Indians as less than human and enslaved them to build the missions.
California created the nation’s first task force to study reparations for African Americans. Do you think something similar needs to be done for native Californians too?
“I believe so. When you start looking at the impact of early explorations – from Russian exploration to Spanish exploration – the whole state was covered with individual tribes with different dialects of the language. wasn’t that everyone here spoke the same language, there were different dialects.
When some of these tribes were erased from the earth, it was genocide because now this language will never be spoken again. These people will never be able to move forward in a deal that they were before. … There must be discussions – discussions.