Native American boarding schools, also known as Indian Residential Schools, were established in the United States during the late 19th and mid 20th centuries with a primary objective of assimilating Native American children and youth into Euro-American culture, while at the same time providing a basic education in Euro-American subject matters. These boarding schools were first established by Christian missionaries of various denominations, who often started schools on reservations, especially in the lightly populated areas of the West. The government paid religious orders to provide basic education to Native American children on reservations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the last residential schools closing as late as 1973. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) founded additional boarding schools based on the assimilation model of the off-reservation Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Children were typically immersed in European-American culture through forced changes that removed indigenous cultural signifiers. These methods included being forced to have European-American style haircuts, being forbidden to speak their Indigenous languages, and having their real names replaced by European names to both “civilize” and “Christianize” them. The experience of the schools was usually harsh and sometimes deadly, especially for the younger children who were forcibly separated from their families. The children were forced to abandon their Native American identities and cultures. Investigations of the later twentieth century have revealed many documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse occurring mostly in church-run schools. In summarizing the recent scholarship from Native perspectives,
Dr. Julie Davis argues:
Perhaps the most fundamental conclusion that emerges from boarding school histories is the profound complexity of their historical legacy for Indian people’s lives. The diversity among boarding school students in terms of age, personality, family situation, and cultural background created a range of experiences, attitudes, and responses. Boarding schools embodied both victimization and agency for Native people and they served as sites of both cultural loss and cultural persistence. These institutions, intended to assimilate Native people into mainstream society and eradicate Native cultures, became integral components of American Indian identities and eventually fueled the drive for political and cultural self-determination in the late 20th century.
Since those years, tribal nations have increasingly insisted on community-based schools and have also founded numerous tribal colleges and universities. Community schools have also been supported by the federal government through the BIA and legislation. The largest boarding schools have closed. By 2007, most of the schools had been closed down and the number of Native American children in boarding schools had declined to 9,500. During this same period, more Native Americans moved to urban environments accommodating in varying degrees and manners to majority culture.
“Over the four decades that the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School operated in Michigan, thousands of Native American children from across the country were taken from their parents and sent there to be stripped of their languages and traditions.
The U.S. documented five deaths of Indigenous children at the school from its opening in 1893 to its closure in 1934. But when the land where the school once sat was returned to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan in 2010 by the state, the tribe’s researchers uncovered a more extensive history of the federal government’s violence: records confirming the deaths of 227 children while at Mount Pleasant. The search for their remains is still underway.
The effort to figure out what happened to those children illustrates the challenge the Department of the Interior faces in its recently announced investigation of the more than 350 Native American boarding schools that operated in the United States for more than a century.”
“In, prison, a security guard locks and unlocks all the doors for you. At work, you have to carry around a security card and unlock and open all the doors yourself. In prison, you can watch TV and play games. At work, you get fired for watching TV and playing games. In prison, you get your own toilet. At work, you have to share a toilet.”
“Sir, I’m timed on each call. I have to resolve issues in a timely…” once again he tries to intercept and re-take control of the situation, but with no success. In his frustration, William grabs a yellow sharpened pencil from his desk drawer and starts to lightly beat down on his penitentiary green work desk.
He starts to fiddle and play with the white eraser until it finally gives way and breaks, only to bounce off, hit his dark red camp shirt, and begin to roll under his desk. As he pushes his office chair back and starts to crawl on the filthy snack sprinkled burgundy carpet, dirtying the knee areas of his loose fitting dark blue tech pocket pants, his troubled caller continues on.
Interview day came and Frank found himself in the lobby of a very nice hotel waiting for Mr. Lark. Fifteen minutes passes in a black leather lounge chair, then a tall distinguished older gentleman wearing glasses and a dark blue business suite exited one of the elevators to his right and walked toward Frank. Frank connects his brown eyes to the gentleman’s blue eyes then stands up.
“Mr. Frank Nickels I presume?” he asked as he offered his hand.
“Yes that’s me. And you must be Mr. Lark?,” Frank said with a firm grip and shake.
“Yes, its nice to meet you. Here’s a brief rundown of the situation. There is an all Native American Boarding School in River City. You may have seen or heard of it, Herman Indian High School.” Frank politely nodded no. Mr. Lark continued on, “Well, the problem is that there are over 300 Windows 7 workstations, approximately 150 users, 400 students, and only one I.T. Support personnel. It’s simply too much work for one person. The systems are all antiquated and in dire need of maintenance and eventually a complete upgrade to Windows 10 along with Office 365. What you will be doing is assisting the I.T. person there with all of the extra work. How does that sound?”