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Melea Hoffman speaks on Indian Boarding Schools

Melea Hoffman

Otoe-Missouria member Melea Hoffman spoke Thursday morning on Indian Boarding Schools and the Lasting Repercussions on the Indigenous People as part of Native American Heritage Month.

Hoffman spoke via Zoom to students and guests at NOC.

She started her lecture with the number 7,310.  That is the number of currently unidentified victims unearthed from Canadian Indian Boarding Schools.

What is the number in the United States?

“I don’t know the number in the United States,” she said.  “There is 350 so far but I see that number increasing as more research is completed but it would not surprise me to see the number increase to a number similar than Canada.”

Hoffman focused on the Carlyle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania ran by Capt. Richard Pratt.  The school was opened, according to Hoffman, to place Native American prisoners, but soon became a school designed to re-educate Native American youth.

“Children were taken from their homes and placed in schools like Carlyle all over the country,” she said.  “Children were not allowed to speak their own language, their hair was cut, they were placed with others who did not speak their language.  It was designed to remove their heritage.  Their names, that meant something to their families, were taken away and they were given random names that meant nothing.”

She added that when students returned to their families they were often ostracized because their families did not recognize them.

“They were totally different,” she said.  “Their heritage was gone.”

Hoffman added that Native Americans who did not allow their children to be taken were imprisoned.

“The conditions at the schools were deplorable,” she said.  “Many died of sickness and were never returned to their families.  Propaganda photos were taken of students claiming they enjoyed their time at the schools.

Now, many are trying to bring back that heritage lost during that time.

“Many tribes are trying to reinstall their languages,” she said.  “It is hoped that through some new legislation, these people can be brought home.”

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, was first introduced last year by then Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N. M.), now secretary of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.  This bill would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government’s Indian Boarding School Policies. This includes attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; assimilation practices; and human rights violations. The commission would also develop recommendations for Congress to aid in healing of the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities.  It would also provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.

Hoffman is not interested in financial reparations but to recognize what happened.

“We are fighting to get our culture back,” she said.

Hoffman graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Oklahoma.  She is a researcher for the Otoe-Missouria Tribal Historian Preservation Office and serves on the Otoe-Missouria Tribal Election Board.

Other events for Native American Heritage Month include a lecture on Native American Pottery by NOC Visual Arts Instructor Audrey Schmitz on Wednesday, Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Also, “Stickball – A Social Game” demonstration will be held by Jake Roberts on Thursday, Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m. on the lawn west of Central Hall.

During November on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Native American Music will be played on the Tonkawa campus and factoids will be played on KAYE FM 90.7.