Native American Boarding Schools

At my other class we read Report of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission. That is how I found out that the little Native Americans in Maine are 5.1 times as likely to go to foster care than the non-native children. The Native Americans see it as the continuation of the genocide they have experienced from the Europeans. To them, foster care is a sequel to the Indian boarding schools.

Having come from a different part of the world I knew some common facts about Native Americans, but I did not know anything about their boarding schools. The latter were created to deal with “the Indian question”. Captain Richard H. Pratt established the first boarding school in Pennsylvania in 1879 with hope to “kill the Indian and save the man”. Europeans thought that if they teach the native children their ways (like religion, team sports, the notion of private property) and give them some education, there would be no need in eradicating the race. The main goal of the Indian schools was to assimilate the Natives with their Caucasian neighbors. It was done in the most hurtful ways. Children as young as six had to adapt to a new way of life: their hair was cut, clothes burnt, native language prohibited. At a boarding school everyone had to wear uniforms, accustom to a very rigid schedule, and speak English. For any kind of misbehavior the Indian children were severely punished. Physical and even sexual abuse was a rather frequent phenomenon in the Native American boarding schools. Since boarding schools for Indian kids were mandatory, the approximate number of their students reached 60000 in 1973. This leads us to believe almost every Indian family was impacted by the system. The mistreated students of the Native American boarding schools carried pain and resentment into their adulthood, which often resulted in substance abuse and poor parenting skills.

The truth commissions are created for those who need reconciliation. Having openly discussed their negative experiences, adults are trying to forgive the system and possibly become better parents to their kids. A loss of a child to foster care is a parent’s personal tragedy. For Native Americans it is also a tribal catastrophe, since their communities are too small and risk extinction without progeny. Everyone makes mistakes, and the Native Americans have as much rights for their children as any other racial group.

For my project, I would like to tell this story in a digital way. I plan on making some introduction about the purpose of the Indian boarding schools and illustrate the narrative with pictures. Then, I would like to use Neatline to map the schools across the States. When clicked on a certain school, a short history of it has to show up. To make it more complex, photographs of schools will be presented. Since there were about one hundred Indian boarding schools in the US, it is too big of an undertaking to map and describe all of them. Therefore, I will concentrate on the biggest or the most famous ones. The project should be accompanied with the Trail of Tears music at the background. If time permits, the project will develop with a narrative of Native American revival: schools, festivals, and modern culture. With happy Indian music, of course.

I am not sure about the data I will draw the information from. So far I have not found any collective sources I hoped to come across while doing research. It is possible I will be looking up every school separately and using my Zotero account to cite the sources.

Suggestions and any kind of help are highly appreciated:).

3 thoughts on “Native American Boarding Schools

  1. Ashleigh Cassemere-Stanfield

    This is a great idea for introducing people to a part of history that they maybe were not aware of. My only suggestions would be to a) delineate between tribes and talk about the different ways that each were singled out and impacted, b) include testimonies from survivors – the children and the families and the communities that lost them c) situate this in a broader context by seeing if there were comparable practices done to other populations in the US or abroad (i.e. even though it’s not 1 to 1, this sounds similar to the cultural decimation within totalitarian states – the heart of it is the same: destroy the “bad” culture and replace it with the approved culture of the oppressor d) maybe mention the similarities in mentality between kidnapping Indian children to “re-educate” them and selling off black children during slavery – in both cases the family was continuously and systematically destroyed as a way to hobble entire populations.

  2. Lisa Hirschfield

    You might find this interesting – a new map of what became the US, depicting the geography of Native nations in the Pre-Columbian era, in their own languages.

    Over time there have been many maps made of “tribal lands” – often to serve the very specific political or economic desires of non-Native peoples. This map is one means of reclaiming territory (real and cultural) through some of the strategies once used to take it away. Re-envisioning the land via the European cultural practice of naming and mapping also reveals the purely metaphorical nature of maps and the ways we use them to construct reality.
    (Compare it to the other images of “Native American Maps” on the web – especially the historical ones.) I know this is a little off topic in terms of schooling, but I think it might be useful as background and as a way to guide your choice of regions.

    1. Oksana Post author

      Thank you Lisa. Yes it is helpful. I actually spent some time reading stuff on and off topic to better understand the issue, and feel like I should do some more.

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