Center for Multicultural Affairs shows film "Indian School: the Survival Story"

Eastern Michigan University’s Center for Multicultural Affairs and the Native American Student Organization presented the documentary, “Indian School, the Survivor Story”, a film highlighting the experiences of Native Americans in the Indian Industrial Boarding School in Mount Pleasant, Michigan on Thursday, Nov. 30 at Halle Library. 

EMU professor of anthropology, Dr. Kay McGowan, produced the film. Members of the American Indian Services in Lincoln Park, Michigan were interviewed for the film and McGowan’s twin sister, Fay McGowan, directed. 

The film discussed how Native Americans were taken from their reservations and put in the boarding schools to assimilate them and get rid of their traditions. While in the boarding school, they were disenfranchised from their land, stripped of their identity and made to feel bad about themselves. 

The children as young as four experienced emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse to manipulate them. If they did well, they would get told that it wasn’t good enough; they were heavily criticized and when they misbehaved they received corporal punishment. The children were never able to make lasting relationships with teachers and staff. 

Many traditional Native American families were affected by it. The families of the children who were sent to boarding school taught them to think for themselves, but in the boarding school they were taught to have uniformity. They were not to question the authority. They were also overworked. The children received military treatment. They were instructed to stand in lines for everything. 

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the federal government required Native American children to attend boarding schools. This was in the era of colonialism, in which lands were taken in partial or full control by a mother country. 

Only 26 Indian boarding schools were under contract with the federal government. Most were run by religious organizations. They all shared the same motto: “Kill the Indian and save the human.” This began with the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1879. There were 519 schools in the U.S. and 126 in Canada. The last Indian Boarding school in the U.S. was in the 1970s and the last one in Canada was in 1996.

The boarding schools created a lot of Indian inequality where their education was not valued. This is related to the low educational attainment of Native Americans. There was a lack of cultural relevance in mainstream education. Schools were very culturally biased against them in their curriculum and teaching. Schools have not received funding to support teaching curriculum that is culturally relevant and training for teachers. This is also related to the low enrollment rate for Native Americans in college. 

The interviewees ended by discussing the long-term effects of their experiences. They said that the loss of their culture, language, ritual and spirituality, led to inter-generational trauma and post traumatic stress, alcohol addiction, and prostitution. 

Jacob Chesney, junior majoring in aviation flight technology, found the documentary very inciteful. 

“I was surprised by the abuse that they went through. Their identity was taken away from them, it is so awful,” he said. “It was interesting to see how future generations were affected. And they wiped out their records to make it as if they weren’t even there and it erased who they were. It reminds me of how the prisons work. They make money from the prisoners.”

He really liked how the documentary had a Michigan connection. 

“I really liked the personal stories. I was surprised that the documentary was about local Indians and there was an Indian Boarding School in Michigan,” he said. 

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