Native American Boarding Schools

Category: Ethnicity, School
Last Updated: 08 Apr 2020
Pages: 2 Views: 675

An Indian boarding school refers to one of many schools that were established in the United States during the late 19th century to educate Native American youths according to Euro-American standards. These schools were primarily run by missionaries. These often proved traumatic to Native American children, who were forbidden to speak their native languages, taught Christianity and denied the right to practice their native religions, and in numerous other ways forced to abandon their Native American identities and adopt European-American culture and the English language.

There were many documented cases of sexual, physical and mental abuse occurring at these schools. In the late eighteenth century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Native Americans (as opposed to relegating them to reservations), adopted the practice of educating native children in modern American culture. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted this civilization policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement.

Attendance in Indian boarding schools generally grew throughout the first half of the 20th century and doubled in the 1960s. Enrollment reached its highest point in the 1970s. In 1973, 60,000 American Indian children are estimated to have been enrolled in an Indian boarding school. Several events in the late 1960s and mid-1970s (Kennedy Report, National Study of American Indian Education, Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975) led to more emphasis on community schools.

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Many large Indian boarding schools closed in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 2007, 9,500 American Indian children lived in an Indian boarding school dormitory. This includes 45 on-reservation boarding schools, 7 off-reservation boarding schools and 14 peripheral dormitories. From 1879 to the present day, hundreds of thousands of American Indians are estimated to have attended an Indian boarding school. Native American children were often separated from their families and people when they were sent or sometimes taken to boarding schools off the reservations.

These schools ranged from those like the federal Carlisle boarding School, to schools sponsored by religious organizations to some created by non-profits such as the founding of an Indian school in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1769. In addition to reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Carlisle curriculum constituted of vocational training for boys and domestic science for girls, including chores around the school and producing goods for market. In the summer students were often outsourced to local farms and townspeople to continue their immersion and provide labor at low cost.

Carlisle and its curriculum would become the model for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and by 1902 there were twenty-five federally funded non-reservation schools across fifteen states and territories with a of over 6,000. Although federal legislation made education compulsory for Native Americans, removing students from reservations required parent authorization, although coercion and even violence were often used to secure the preset quota of students from any given reservation.

Once the new students arrived at the boarding schools, life altered drastically. They were given new haircuts, uniforms, and even new English names, sometimes based on their own, other times assigned at random. They could no longer speak their own languages, even between each other, and they were expected to convert to Christianity. Life was run by the strict orders of their teachers, and it often included grueling chores and stiff punishments.

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Native American Boarding Schools. (2017, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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