DESTROYING INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN THE NAME OF EDUCATION
“They took the children from the land to take the land from the children”
Maskwasis Boysis, Cree, Canada
The identification of mass graves of Indigenous children in Canada and the launch of investigations into similar burial sites in the US has exposed the devastating impacts of schools that aimed to strip children of their indigenous identity, indoctrinate them to conform to the dominant society and thereby ease the theft of their peoples’ lands. These schools left a devastating legacy.
Today, around two million tribal children are attending Factory Schools – which have similar aims: erasing indigenous ways of life and enabling the take over of lands and resources, at terrible cost to children, families and indigenous peoples.
All Indigenous peoples have the right to run education systems rooted in their own land, language and culture and which instils pride in themselves and their people – but very few are able to choose such an education for their children. It’s time for that to change.
Help us put indigenous education back under indigenous control.
Factory Schools see something “wrong” with being indigenous
The “education” they provide is intended to “correct” this. Factory Schools claim they give indigenous children the means to “succeed” in the dominant society, but history shows that Factory Schools destroy lives, causing trauma and devastation to children, their families, and their communities for generations.
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania, U.S. c1900. © Cumberland County Historical Society
Tribal children at an Indian residential school for 27,000 pupils, which opened in 1993. © Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences
Historic factory schooling
The identification of hundreds of unmarked graves in residential school grounds in Canada and the US has thrown a spotlight on the unimaginable trauma that this system caused to Indigenous children and families.
This schooling has left a painfully raw legacy in many communities, with high rates of depression, suicide, and substance abuse and contributed to the disproportionately high rates of murder and incarceration of Indigenous women and men.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to … gain control over [indigenous] land and resources.”
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition is calling for full investigations into the 367 schools that aimed to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into US society and the as-yet undocumented deaths that occurred there.
Factory Schooling Today
In these schools, children are cut off from their homes, family, language and culture, and are often abused emotionally, physically or sexually. Just in the Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, almost 1,500 tribal children died in residential schools between 2001-2016, including over 30 suicides.
As in the US and Canada, a major objective of this schooling is to divorce Indigenous children from their connection to their land, to make it easier for governments and corporations to take their lands and resources.
Turning “liabilities” into “assets”
Norieen Yaakob of the Temiar tribe of Malaysia barely survived running away from her residential school. She was found 47 days after fleeing her school; five other children died.
Factory Schools exist to turn tribal and indigenous children – who have their own language and culture – into compliant workers in the mainstream economy. The world’s largest Factory School stated that it turns “Tax consumers into tax payers, liabilities into assets.”
Big corporations and extractive industries often sponsor Factory Schools. These companies want to profit from indigenous land, labor and resources, and Factory Schools are a cheap means to try to secure this in the long term.
Destroying communities and languages
Factory Schools teach children that the beliefs and knowledge of their own people are “backwards,” inferior, or wrong.
Millions of tribal children are forbidden or discouraged from speaking their mother tongue at school. This threatens the survival of indigenous languages. The fundamental cause of language extinction is when children no longer speak the language of their parents. This is a disaster, because
Extractive industries in India and Mexico support schools which teach children to embrace mining, and to reject the vital connection their people have to their lands as “primitive.”
States use schooling as a means of inculcating patriotism and quashing independence movements, such as in West Papua, where the Indonesian government is attempting to “Indonesianize” indigenous Papuans, and violently represses dissent.
Religious conversion is another motive, including Islamic missionizing schools in Bangladesh and Indonesia, Christian residential mission schools in South America and Hindu fundamentalists targeting tribal children for conversion via schooling in India. In all these examples, the aim is not only to change the child’s beliefs, but also to impose profound cultural change on the community.
Papuan boys locked in an Islamic boarding school in Jakarta. © Michael Bachelard / Survival
A loss to all humanity
This contempt for indigenous knowledge and culture ends up destroying tribal peoples and their unique cultures and knowledge.
At home, tribal children learn complex and sophisticated skills and knowledge which allow them to live well on their land and nurture it for the future. Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. Thousands of years of collective wisdom, understanding, and insight can be lost within one generation if children are in Factory Schools, divorced from their lands, languages and ways of life.
The Enawene Nawe of Brazil control their education, which is rooted in their culture and language. © Survival International
What’s the solution?
Where tribal and indigenous communities are running their own education systems – on their land and on their terms – children and families are thriving, and indigenous languages and cultures are being revitalised.
The answer is simple: indigenous education must be under indigenous control.
Orang Rimba children learning with Sokola Rimba (The Jungle School), Indonesia © Aulia Erlangga
Baka child studying with indigenous education project ’Two Rabbits’ in Cameroon © Sarah Strader/chasingtworabbits.org
What is Survival doing?
Exposing the problem
We need the world to know the extent and impact of Factory Schools to help end this brutal system.
Advocating for change
We are lobbying governments and the UN to demand that these schools are stopped.
Promoting a solution
We are collecting examples of positive schools and education programs where tribal children are learning on their land, with their families, in their languages. We are sharing these widely to inspire hope and change.
We won’t give up until every tribal and indigenous community is able to choose an education for their children that respects their family, culture, language and links to their land – and gives more than it takes.
What can you do?