This cruel Christmas letter from an Indian boarding school offers a vital history lesson.

It’s a chapter of U.S. and Canadian history that many prefer to forget—and that many of us never even learned.

Either absent from many textbooks or given a mere nod in a sentence or two, the forcible, systematic removal of Native children from their families is one of the most shameful episodes in our history. Starting in the 19th century and continuing through the majority of the 20th, both the U.S. and Canadian governments created boarding schools, or residential schools, in which Native children were forced to “assimilate.”

What “assimilate” meant could be summed up in the words of U.S. cavalry captain Richard Henry Pratt, who opened the first Indian boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania: “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”


Children were taken from their families to live at these schools, forced to speak English and practice Christianity, and punished for speaking their own languages or practicing their own customs. For decades, tens of thousands of Native children endured the cultural genocide the schools were designed to carry out, in addition to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuses that turned out to be all too common in such schools.

Some may think this is ancient history. But it wasn’t until the Indian Child Welfare Act passed in 1978 that Native parents in the U.S. gained the legal right to keep their own children from these schools. That's right. 1978.

A Christmas letter to Indian parents from a Canadian residential school highlights the arrogant racism inherent in the system.

Lance Albert of Saskatchewan, Canada shared a photo of a letter on Facebook from Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops, British Columbia, dated November 18, 1948.

Imagine someone stealing your children so they can indoctrinate and abuse them until everything you and your family has taught them is destroyed. Then imagine getting this letter from them in the mail:

Can you imagine? Some of our Parents, Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Brothers, Sisters went through this...

Posted by Lance Albert on Saturday, December 15, 2018

"Dear Parents,

It will be your privilege this year to have your children spend Christmas at home with you. The holidays will extend from DECEMBER 18th to JANUARY 3rd. This is a privilege which is being granted if you observe the following regulations of the Indian Department.

  1. THE TRANSPORTATION TO THE HOME AND BACK TO THE SCHOOL MUST BE PAID BY THE PARENTS. The parents must come themselves to get their own children. If they are unable to come they must sent a letter to the Principal of the school stating that the parents of other children from the same Reserve may bring them home. The children will not be allowed to go home alone on the train or bus.
  2. THE PARENTS MUST BRING THE CHILDREN BACK TO THE SCHOOL STRICTLY ON TIME. If the children are not returned to School on time they will not be allowed to go home for Christmas next year.

I ask you to observe the above regulations in order that this privilege of going home for Christmas may be continued from year to year. It will be a joy for you to have your children with you for Christmas. It will be a joy also for your children and it will bring added cheer and happiness to your home.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. F. O'Grady, O.M.I, Principal."

Imagine having your kids forcibly taken from you, then being told that seeing them for the holidays was “a privilege.”

The reverend used the word "privilege" three times to describe parents simply getting to see their own children at their own expense. He threatens to hold their children hostage next Christmas if they don't return them on time. Then he repeatedly tells them what "a joy" it will be for them to get to see each other, as if he's issuing some kind of happiness edict. Gross.

Add in the fact that many of the Native parents receiving this letter didn't speak or read English, nor did they celebrate Christmas, and the arrogance and condescension in the letter grow even greater.

In fact, the whole thing reads like something President Snow in "The Hunger Games" would write. How nauseating is it to realize that the dystopian stories we eagerly consume as entertainment have been the lived reality of thousands of Native and First Nations people for so much of our history?

And again, this is modern history. My mom was a child when this letter was written, and I was born before Native parents in my own country had the legal right to say no to the government stealing their children. There are thousands of people living with the aftermath of these policies and practices, right here, right now.

Let's add this to the list of human atrocities we vow to #NeverForget.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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