If you go

What: "Let All That Is Indian Within You Die: A History Of Native American Boarding Schools Forum," with speaker Don Wharton

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14

Where: Native American Rights Fund, 1506 Broadway St., Boulder

Cost: $20; $10 for museum members.

More info: boulderhistory.org

The Native American Rights Fund is hosting a forum this Thursday in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

In conjunction with the Boulder History Museum, the Rights Fund will be conducting its Chief Niwot Forum, named after the tribal leader of the Arapaho people. This year's forum, "Let All That Is Indian Within You Die: The History Of Native American Boarding Schools," will look into the philosophy of boarding schools where Native American children were sent to assimilate in the late 19th century.

Last year's exhibit "Chief Niwot: Legend and Legacy" received positive acclaim and support from the Boulder community, said Carol Taylor, curator of adult programs at the Boulder History Museum, who also writes a history column for the Daily Camera.

"What we found last year was that people didn't know these stories," she said. "They came up to us and asked, 'Why don't I know this?'"


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Without education, people won't know what happened, said Donald Wharton, an attorney at the Rights Fund and speaker for Thursday's forum.

The boarding schools, Wharton said, were a from of cultural genocide.

"The Natives who went to the boarding schools came back to their communities as broken individuals," he said.

Despite the assimilation efforts, Native American children were not assimilated, and the children were left with long-term consequences, he said.

"They didn't know their own culture and they didn't have the skills to assimilate into majority culture," he said.

According to Wharton, an estimated 100,000 children went to these boarding schools.

"You have this same experience in Canada, Australia and New Zealand," Wharton said. "They have apologized to their native peoples. The United States provided no acknowledgment in their role."

He spoke of the long-term effects of sending children to boarding schools in what he called inter-generational trauma, otherwise known as historical trauma. Currently, Native American communities have high rates of alcoholism, suicide and domestic violence. He said it's part due to these schools.

Rose Cuny, office manager at the Rights Fund, grew up in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Coming from the Oglala Lakota tribe, she was sent to her first boarding school when she was in first grade in 1958.

"In all my years of boarding school, I am fortunate that I never had anything bad happen to me," Cuny said.

She went to three different boarding until she graduated high school. She remembers the Catholic priests and the nuns being very strict. The students would walk in a single-file straight line. Everything, including a half hour of playtime before lunch, was on a solid schedule.

Cuny said that while the purpose of the boarding school was to assimilate Native American children into U.S. culture, it wasn't the reason why her parents sent her there. She sees a positive light in her own experience.

"It helped me to get out on my own," Cuny said. "It helped me be responsible and be organized."

Her husband, who also went to boarding school with her, endured having his head shaved — a punishment for not behaving properly. Cuny said that she avoided punishment because she never wanted to get into trouble.

"So many people have no idea what happened at those boarding schools," Cuny said. "Even though that was a long time ago, I think the whole trauma comes down with it. It comes down on how parents parented their children."

Contact Mirav Levy at mirav.levy@colorado.edu.