Uncovering the shadows of genocide: Wayne State student's research will shed light on North American history

Through a powerful research initiative, Finnley Culhane, a student dual-majoring in political science and romance languages, will shed light on dark and often neglected chapters of North American history. The project reinforces WSU's reputation as a leader in hard-hitting research with meaningful community impact.

Culhane's project, "A Genocide in North America," aims to expose the haunting legacy of residential schools in Canada and American Indian boarding schools in the United States.

For over a century, Canada and the United States operated residential schools and American Indian boarding schools, respectively, aiming to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-American culture. Spanning from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, these institutions forcibly separated children from their families, suppressing native languages and cultural practices.

Motivated by a deep commitment to survivor recognition and a passion for supporting Indigenous communities, Culhane's research aims to confront the systemic injustices that have perpetuated intergenerational trauma for centuries.

She credits one of her eighth grade teachers in LaSalle, Ontario with inspiring her ardent support of Indigenous communities. "I have Mr. Norman Grondin to thank for that," Culhane said. He exposed myself and my class to the horrors that occurred on Canadian soil and I've wanted to make a difference since."  

She will conduct a comparative analysis of the Residential School System in both Canada and the United States. "It's crucial to highlight the stark differences in how the two nations recognize and address the suffering of Indigenous peoples," Culhane said. "While Canada has taken steps toward reconciliation, the United States has been notably silent on the historical atrocities of the American Indian boarding school system."

Culhane, a history minor, will work with Department of History Professor Karen Marrero on the project. "By bringing greater public attention to the brutalities of the residential school system, Finnley is contributing to the movement for restorative justice for victims of this system and their families," said Marrero. "This was a North American tragedy. The more information the general public has, the greater the opportunity for institutions that once participated in this practice to admit culpability and address the devastation of their practices in concrete ways."

Due to the nature of the project, Culhane admits that it won't be without its challenges. "One of the primary hurdles is the scarcity of information on the American side, particularly concerning the Indian Boarding School System. Despite this, we aim to utilize both secondary and, wherever possible, primary sources to uncover historical actions and analyze survivor stories, school conditions, and policy developments."

She hopes to secure funding for the project through WSU's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. "On-site visits to significant locations in Canada and the United States, including reservations, capitals, archives, and boarding school sites, could significantly enhance the research."

"My goal is to raise global awareness about the genocidal practices that unfolded in North America. By addressing gaps in scholarly sources and exploring the potential for reconciliation, I hope to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about historical atrocities."

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