The Native American Boarding School System: ‘War Against the Children’

Zach Levitt, Yiliya Parshina-Kottas, Simon Romero, and Tim Wallace, The New York Times, The Native American Boarding School System: ‘War Against the Children.’ The Native American boarding school system–a decades-long effort to assimilate Indigenous people before they ever reached adulthood–robbed children of their culture, family bonds, and sometimes their lives. Wednesday, 20 August 2023:  “The Native American boarding school system was vast and entrenched, ranging from small shacks in remote Alaskan outposts to refurbished military barracks in the Deep South to large institutions up and down both the West and East coasts. Until recently, incomplete records and scant federal attention kept even the number of schools — let alone more details about how they functioned — unknown. The 523 schools represented here constitute the most comprehensive accounting to date of institutions involved in the system. This data was compiled over the course of several years by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization. It reflects the efforts of historians, researchers, activists and survivors who have filled in many of the blanks in this dark chapter of American history. The first school opened in 1801, and hundreds were eventually established or supported by federal agencies such as the Interior Department and the Defense Department. Congress enacted laws to coerce Native American parents to send their children to the schools, including authorizing Interior Department officials to withhold treaty-guaranteed food rations to families who resisted. Congress also funded schools through annual appropriations and with money from the sale of lands held by tribes. In addition, the government hired Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Congregationalist associations to run schools, regardless of whether they had experience in education, paying them an amount for each student. Beyond the vast federal system, this new list also sheds light on boarding schools that operated without federal support. Religious organizations ran at least 105 schools; many were Catholic, Presbyterian or Episcopalian, but smaller congregations such as the Quakers ran schools of their own. Wherever they were located or whoever ran them, the schools largely shared the mission of assimilating Indigenous students by erasing their culture. Children’s hair was cut off; their clothes were burned; they were given new, English names and were required to attend Christian religious services; and they were forced to perform manual labor, both on school premises and on surrounding farms. Those who dared to keep speaking their ancestral languages or observing their religious practices were often beaten. While the boarding school era might seem like distant history, aging survivors, many in their 70s and 80s, are striving to ensure the harm that was done is remembered.” See also, Dana Hedgpeth and Emmanuel Martinez, The Washington Post,  More schools that forced American Indian children to assimilate revealed, Wednesday, 30 August 2023: “A nonprofit group has identified 115 more Indian boarding schools than has been previously reported, offering new insight into the role of religious institutions in the long-standing federal policy to eradicate Native Americans’ culture through their children. For more than a century, generations of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children were forced or coerced from their homes and communities and sent to live at schools where they were beaten, starved and made to abandon their Native languages and culture. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced last year that the federal government ran or supported 408 such schools in 37 states, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven in Hawaii, from 1819 to 1969. The new list released Wednesday by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition uses a different criteria, bringing the number of known Indian boarding schools in the country to 523 in 38 states. In addition to the federally supported schools tallied by the Interior Department, the coalition identified 115 more institutions that operated beginning in 1801, most of them run by religious groups and churches.”