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Native American Hairitage Month

As a Native American boarding school survivor, Ramona Klein’s, (76) experience stands as a poignant testament to the lasting scars inflicted by these institutions. She vividly recalls the day when she was 7 years old and got on the bus to Fort Totten, she was separated from her family and brought to the government-run school in North Dakota 100 miles from her home. 

One of the most jarring memories etched in Ramona’s mind was her forced haircut. “One of the first things they did was cut my long hair that was down my back,” Klein said. “Noting that she got the nickname “Butch” because her hair was cut so short” (Dana Hedgpeth). “With black combs dipped in kerosene, a matron brushed her hair to kill head lice, even though she had none. I remember watching my hair fall to the floor,” Klein said. This brutal act of hair cutting was a symbolic severing of her cultural ties, and it left her feeling stripped of her identity.

The citation from the Washington Post "‘12 years of hell’: Indian boarding school survivors share their stories" illustrates how this traumatic experience was not unique to Ramona alone. It was a pervasive practice in many Native American residential schools, aimed at erasing cultural distinctions and replacing them with Euro-American norms. The emotional and psychological consequences of this experience have reverberated through generations of Native Americans who attended these schools, highlighting the profound impact of such institutionalized assimilation efforts on indigenous communities. Ramona’s story serves as a reminder of the resilience and strength of Native American people in the face of immense adversity, as they continue to heal from the wounds inflicted by the legacy of residential schools.

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