A Human Rights Issue: The Records of Native American Boarding Schools (Archival Outlook)

When considering the statement “all archives are human rights archives,” the dispersed corpus of Native American boarding school records uniquely bears the weight of these words. The Human Rights Watch defines human rights as “the basic rights and freedoms to which everyone is entitled on the basis of their common humanity. They include civil and political rights, as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” Severe and fatal violations of these rights occurred during the nearly century-long effort to displace Native American children from their homes into church and government-run boarding schools. Records maintained by these schools retain a duality that undergirds their administrative banality with a horrifying reality, documenting the operational capacities of educational institutions while embodying egregious violations of Native American children’s basic human rights.

Boarding school records document the forced removal of children from their families and homes, the forced renunciation of Indigenous culture and assimilation to a Eurocentric culture, unsanitary and inhumane living conditions, rampant physical and sexual abuse, and deaths. These practices evidence a deep engagement on the part of religious institutions and the federal government in cultural genocide, one that specifically targeted children.

Read more here. This article is based on a webinar co-hosted by the Human Rights Archives Section and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. You can view the webinar here.