American Indian boarding schools – Wikipedia – 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, 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 often 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.