My research interests revolve around issues of genocide with a focus on the settlement of North America.
The federal Native American boarding schools have been accused of being the sites of cultural genocide but at the same time have been lauded as successful tools of assimilation of Native Americans into Euro-American culture. It was the practice of these schools to separate Native children from their families and tribes, often far distances away and for the duration of their education. This separation went beyond the physical removal, as it included the cutting of their hair, dressing in Euro-American style clothing, punishment for speaking their native languages or performance of any culturally relevant practices. The Native boarding school experience was often traumatic and not without significant impact on the Native communities. These experiences resulted in disenfranchisement of many children from their tribes, loss of culture and language, and memories of traumatic and abusive incidents. In addition, the experiences at the boarding schools perpetuated themselves through generations, as former boarding school students not only sent their own children to the schools but also raised them using the same methods they had experienced at the schools. This led to the handing down of experiences, or shared traumatic memory, which is referred to in psychology as intergenerational or transgenerational trauma. This term has become central in much of the boarding school literature and acknowledges the negative and often traumatizing experiences that Native students had at the boarding schools. Even though not all former students have negative reports, the impact of the boarding schools on Native communities is not negligible.
In my dissertation, titled Tools Of Ethnocide: Assimilation And Benevolence In Native American Boarding Schools, I investigate this trauma and the practices in the boarding schools. More specifically, I am looking at the impact of educational practices of the time, which were likely amplified by racism. These practices that incorporated corporal punishment and other abusive methods have been termed black pedagogy by educationalist Katharina Rutschky or poisonous pedagogy by Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller. Prior to the 1800s, they were already prevalent in Europe and became transplanted into the American educational system through the mass emigration of Europeans to the U.S. In my research, I am exploring the boarding school educators and staff’s backgrounds, upbringing and education, in order to make the connection between the employees, black pedagogy and racism, and the resulting cultural genocide. In addition, the discussion of intergenerational trauma is directly connected to memories and shared experiences of removal, relocation, war, abuse, and near extermination. This is not a history of the past but one that lives on in stories, ceremonies, testimonies, and within tribal communities.
I have spent time at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., Denver, C.O., and Kansas City, M.O. where I have collected a large amount of files from the U.S. government’s education branch, the Indian Office, and individuals employed in the federal boarding school system of the late 1800s to the 1930s.