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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

"Kill the Indian, Save the Man"

Updated: Jan 14

The solution to the "Indian problem" in the 1800s and 1900s was to destroy their culture. Nearly 500 Indian boarding schools across North America were used to do this.

The recent discovery of more than 750 Native children graves at two former Indian residential schools in Canada has blasted open a scandal. But the truth is that nearly 500 such "schools" across North America--357 in the U.S. and 139 in Canada--had the mission of "kill the Indian, save the man." The system was legislated and adopted by both governments to force assimilation of Native Americans into white culture. The schools in both nations were government-sponsored but many were run by churches, mostly the Catholic Church. It was institutional kidnapping, physical and sexual abuse, and systematic extermination of their culture. And it was genocide.

For the last two hundred years, the solution to the "Indian problem" was to destroy their land and livelihood, then destroy their culture through government programs. On March 3, 1819, the Civilization Fund Act legislated an era of forced acculturation, leading to the Indian residential school era, the height of which took place from 1860 to 1978 (although some schools existed until 2007).

The philosophy of these institutions was to "civilize" Native Americans into white society. This was achieved by first kidnapping the children from their homes and parents, forcing them into the "schools," then stripping them of all their Indian ways. First their long hair--a source of pride for many tribes--was cut. All their clothes were taken and burned and they were given military-style uniforms to wear. Students were forbidden to speak their language, sign, (most children did not speak English when they arrived at the schools) or practice any of their Native traditions. Strict and often very violent punishments were used to enforce these rules.

Food and medical attention were often scarce, filth and disease were rampant and cruelty, physical and sexual abuse, and murder unfettered. When children died, they were often buried in unmarked graves at night. The simply disappeared. The parents were never told and never saw their children again.

The extent of violence and cruelty, including murder, will never be fully known. But the recent discovery of more than 750 unmarked graves at two former Canadian Indian residential schools has opened up the issue once again and hints at the massive scope of the abuse. Many Native leaders believe tens of thousands of Native children died at these institutions. The horrific discoveries are just beginning...

You may also be interested in these related posts:

-Back from the Brink

-Vanishing Race

"Kill the Indian, Save the Man" was first posted on Facebook and on July 17, 2021.


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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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