Lessons

Reporting on Cultural Genocide and the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools

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Mike Pinay, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School, 1953-1963. Pinay says, “It was the worst ten years of my life. I was awayx from my family from the age of 6 to 16. How do you learn about relationships, how do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then; I was a number … 73.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Tyler Eagle, Waswanipi First Nation. Paired with sweetgrass, one of the four sacred plants (cedar, sage and tobacco are the other three) used in First Nations rituals and ceremonies. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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MIKE PINAY, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963).“It was the worst 10 years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of six to 16. How do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then. I was a number.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

MIKE PINAY, Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963).“It was the worst 10 years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of six to 16. How do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then. I was a number.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Gary Nelson

Gary Nelson says most of the boys he went to school with died in their 30s and 40s: "Mostly of alcoholism. Sometimes of hopelessness." Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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Sharon Henio-Yazzie (pictured with an abandoned school in Ramah) was one of roughly 40,000 children from 60 tribes placed in Mormon homes between 1947 and 2000

Sharon Henio-Yazzie (pictured with an abandoned school in Ramah) was one of roughly 40,000 children from 60 tribes placed in Mormon homes between 1947 and 2000. Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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Tribal leaders line up for the Grand Entry, a ceremony which marks the start of a powwow where the flags and eagle staffs of both the host and visiting tribes are brought into the arena. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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A drum circle sings at an Alderville First Nation event. Drumming is a deeply significant part of First Nations culture — the beat is thought to represent the pulse of Mother Nature, and many of the songs tell old folk stories and legends. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Crystal Lavallee, Cree and Ojibwe. Paired with the Haldimand Proclamation, a treaty granting land to the Six Nations (Iroquois) for having fought with the British in the American Revolution. Today, Six Nations is the largest band in Canada. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rob Carr

Rob Carr cycled through four different boarding schools between 1964 and 1976, going as many as two years without seeing his parents. Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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Dancers perform at the Piapot Powwow, at Piapot First Nations in Saskatchewan, Canada. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rodney Little Mustache's daily dose of antiretroviral medications. Rodney was an injecting drug user and worked in the sex trade when he lived in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a neighborhood famous for hard drug use. His HIV diagnosis was a wake up call that he had to drastically change his lifestyle if he wanted to survive. This fall, Rodney began his first semester at the University of British Columbia. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Gary Edwards, Lac La Ronge First Nation. Paired with Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. About 14% of the Downtown Eastside's residents identify as indigenous, though they make up about 2.6% of Canada's overall population. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Mary Cohoe

Punished by school staff for speaking Navajo, Mary Cohoe joined countless children who never regained the ability to speak their native language. Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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Four men's traditional dancers process into the arena. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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A photo of Doreen Bellaire's mother, Delina Commana (center), who attended a residential school in Spanish, Ontario for ten years. To protect her own family from ever having to go through the same experience, Delina left her reserve and moved into town to raise her children, never even telling them that they were First Nations. It wasn't until decades later that Doreen found out about her culture and her heritage. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Cliff Standing Ready, Lakota. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Bessie Randolph

Albuquerque Indian School, which Bessie Randolph attended, was founded in 1881. It cclosed in 1982. In 2013, a charter school opened in the only building of 48 left standing. Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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A young girl watches from the edge of the arena. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Ellie breaks down and hugs one of her best friends, Janet, thanking her for being one of the few people who doesn't judge her for being HIV positive. Even though Ellie is incredibly conscientious when it comes to safe injection drug use, she's frequently shunned and assaulted because of her status. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Eugene Harry, Malahat First Nation. Paired with the Mohawk Institute Residential School, one of the few original school structures remaining. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Ramsay Harrison

Indian boarding schools, designed to "kill the Indian" but "save the man," left students like Ramsay Harrison with nebulous identitites: "I wasn't white, I wasn't Navajo." Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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The arena at the Piapot Powwow is lined by drum groups who take turns performing throughout the day. The beat of the drums is thought to mimic the heartbeat of Mother Earth. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Eleanor Kay walks to her dealer's house in North Central, Regina. Ellie is a sex worker and an active injecting drug user, and was diagnosed with HIV in 2008. She probably contracted the virus from an ex-boyfriend who was routinely unfaithful to her and didn't disclose his status — he died in 2010, with Ellie in her aunt's basement, after they used together. Ellie is fiercely responsible about her health — she goes to a free needle exchange almost every day to get clean syringes for herself and her family, and frequently is responsible for looking after her uncles and brother and cousins when they're under the influence. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Suzanne Smoke, Alderville First Nation. Paired with birds sitting on a telephone wire near Alderville First Nation in Ontario. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Nixon Martinez

In 1970, Ramah opened one of the country's first Native-run schools. President Nixon sent a telegram pledging support for the "important new direction in Indian Education." Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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A traditional dancer and a grass dancer perform. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Archie Weenie runs a sweat lodge on the north end of Regina, where First Nations people gather once a week to take part in the intense spiritual ritual. Participants gather in a dome-shaped hut (the lodge) around rocks that have been heated in a sacred fire (center) and are doused in water to create steam. During the sweat, people will pray, sing, drum, and share their stories. There are a few people struggling with substance addiction who regularly come to Archie's lodge. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Rodney Little Mustache, Piikani Nation. Paired with the sacred fire from a sweat lodge in Saskatchewan. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

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Sharon Henio-Yazzie

Sharon Henio-Yazzie (pictured with an abandoned school in Ramah) was one of roughly 40,000 children from 60 tribes placed in Mormon homes between 1947 and 2000. Image by Daniella Zalcman. USA, 2016.

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Young jingle dress dancers perform at the powwow. Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.

Common Core Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2
Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3
Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.   Objective:
 

You will be able to explore how interviews with survivors of Indian residential schools communicate evidence of cultural genocide in order to investigate and communicate evidence of threatened cultures in your own communities
 

Warm up:
 
  1. What images do you think of when you hear the word, “culture.” Consider, what defines a person’s culture? What is your definition of culture? Click here for the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition.
     

  2. What are elements that represent your culture? Make a list of at least ten things. Look back at your list and reflect on how important these parts of your culture are to your identify. Use the following scale to rate how important each element in your list is to how you define yourself: (1-not important to 5-very important)
     

Example: English language (3), Always letting the eldest person in the family eat first (5), etc.
 

  1. Consider the following questions, and be prepared to share your responses with the class:

    1. Where are the spaces where you feel most comfortable expressing your culture, and why?

    2. How comfortable do you feel expressing your culture in your school?

    3. How would you respond if your school demanded that you not express yourself in any of the ways you wrote on your list? How would you feel?

    4. Why might a school mandate that students not express elements of their cultures?

    5. In history, when have groups of people been forced to not express their cultures? Why?
       

  2. Look at the following image and respond to the following:

    1. What do you see?

    2. What do you think is happening in this photo?

    3. How does this image connect to culture?

    4. What questions do you have about this photo?

      1. Use the caption to find out more information about the subject of this image.

        Mike Pinay attended Qu’Appelle Indian Residential School (1953-1963). Pinay says, “It was the worst ten years of my life. I was away from my family from the age of 6 to 16. How do you learn about relationships, how do you learn about family? I didn’t know what love was. We weren’t even known by names back then; I was a number … 73.” Image by Daniella Zalcman. Canada, 2015.
         

Introducing the lesson:
 

This lesson plan explores the lasting impacts of government-mandated residential schools for Native Americans in the U.S. and First Nations children in Canada through analysis of photojournalist Daniella Zalcman’s “Signs of Your Identity” project. In an introduction to the project on www.signsofyouridentity.com, Zalcman writes, “For more than a century, the Canadian government operated a network of Indian Residential Schools that were meant to assimilate young indigenous students into western Canadian culture. Indian agents would take children from their homes as young as two or three and send them to church-run boarding schools where they were punished for speaking their native languages or observing any indigenous traditions, routinely sexually and physically assaulted, and in some extreme instances subjected to medical experimentation and sterilization.

The last residential school closed in 1996. The Canadian government issued its first formal apology in 2008.”

In June 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission referred to actions taken by Canada’s residential schools as “cultural genocide.” The Commission wrote, “These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will. The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.” Click here to read the full report.

Zalcman uses photography and extensive interviews to illuminate the stories of survivors of residential schools, and the stories of survivors’ families. As you review the resources and exercises connected to this lesson, consider the following:

  1. What do you learn about residential schools from Zalcman’s reporting?

  2. How did residential schools for indigenous children limit the ways that students could express their native cultures?

  3. How do the people being interviewed describe their cultures?

  4. Where do you see evidence of people being stripped of their cultures in your own country, and your own community?

 

Exploring the Legacy of Residential Schools for Indigenous Children in the U.S. and Canada:
 

Review the following resources from Daniella Zalcman, and respond to the following questions after reviewing each resource:
 

  1. What images and stories stick with you from the piece?

  2. What do you learn about how residential schools were established and run?

  3. What do you learn about the cultures of the subjects profiled in the piece?

  4. What evidence do you see of what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls “cultural genocide”?

  5. What has been the impact of this “cultural genocide” on the subjects interviewed by Zalcman? Use text from the interviews and Zalcman’s descriptions of the subjects to support your response.
     

Discussion:
 

After reviewing the resources above, use your written responses to guide a conversation addressing the following questions:
 

  1. How do the subjects of Zalcman’s reporting describe residential schools?

  2. How did residential schools for indigenous children limit the ways that students could express their cultures?

  3. How do the people being interviewed describe their cultures?

  4. Where do you see evidence of people being stripped of their cultures in your own country, and your own community?

  5. What has been the impact of residential schools? What could be the lasting impact?
     

Extension Activities:
 
  1. Exploring steps for reconciliation: Research and Letter Writing

Start by writing your responses to the following questions:

  1. After reviewing the resources above, what questions do you still have about the cultures of the indigenous communities described in the articles?

  2. According to the subjects interviewed, what have the Canadian government and indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada done to respond to the legacy of residential schools?

  3. What could be potential solutions to restoring cultural practices lost as a result of residential schools? What needs must be addressed? Who could be involved, and what could they do?
     

Next, conduct a research project exploring the ways that different stakeholders (The Canadian government, indigenous communities, survivors of residential schools, The U.S. government, etc.) have worked to support survivors of residential schools. Consider the following:

  • What solutions appear to be working?  Be sure to include evidence from your research, and consider to what degree the solutions are supporting what survivors say they want and need.

  • What solutions do you think should still be explored? What might be next steps? Who should be involved, and how?
     

Consider using the following articles from Daniella Zalcman to start your research:

Use your research and reflections to write a letter proposing an action that should be taken to reach a need outlined by survivors of residential schools and their families. Address your letter to someone that you identified in your research as someone that might be able to support the project you have in mind. In your letter be sure to clearly explain your idea, how the idea could contribute to the challenges that have emerged as a result of the residential school system, and why the person receiving the letter might be able to help.

 

2. Making Local Connections: Research, Interviews and Portraits

Embark on a research project inspired by “Signs of Your Identity” that explores how people in the world today, and/or in your own community, are being stripped of their cultures. Consider the following as you plan your research project:

 

  • Where do you see evidence that a community’s culture is being threatened? In the world? In your country? In your community?

  • How are cultures being threatened, and why?

 

Next, plan a reporting project to investigate the lasting impacts of the issue you identified in your research. Your goal will be to create a blended-image portrait and write a caption, much like Daniella Zalcman created for her investigation into the lasting impacts of residential schools.

 

Consider who you might want to interview and what questions you would like to ask. Think about what questions would help your subject comfortable, and what questions would help an audience learn about your subject’s culture.

 

Conduct interviews with the subjects you identified. After each interview, take a portrait of the interview subject. Using your interview notes for inspiration, take a secondary photo of a place/object/moment that reflects something you learned about your interview subject. Using a photo-blending app, Diana and PhotoBlend can be downloaded to your phone for free, blend the portrait and the secondary photo into one image. Write a caption that uses your reporting and quotes from your interview to explain the following:

  1. Who is in the image (First and Last Name, age, maybe occupation)?

  2. What is the story you are hoping to share with this image?

  3. Where is the person?

  4. When was this photo taken?

  5. Why is the portrait blended with this secondary image?
     

Share your photos with Pulitzer Center and Daniella Zalcman by sending it to education@pulitzercenter.org.

 
Educator Notes: 

This lesson engages students in a discussion about culture, identity and the lasting impact of government-mandated residential schools for indigenous children in the U.S. and Canada. Students explore photography and reporting from Daniella Zalcman's "Signs of Your Identity" project. They then use evidence from photos and interviews to reflect on the impact that the residential schools have had on the lives and cultural identities of native communities through writing, discussion and interactive projects. This lesson is written to be explored independently by students, but can be adapted to include small-group and whole-group discussion. For more information about "Signs of Your Identity," check out www.signsofyouridentity.com

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