Indigenous Boarding Schools

These titles focus on the establishment, starting in the early 19th century, of Native American boarding school initiatives, which entailed removing Native American children from their families and placing them in schools intended to assimilate them into white American culture.

Adams, David Wallace. Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience, 1875-1928. University Press of Kansas, 1995. 396p ISBN 0700607358, $34.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE April 1996

Federal policy usually dominates histories about Native American education; Indians are largely silent participants. Exceptions, however, are the studies devoted to individual schools, e.g., Robert Trennert’s The Phoenix Indian School (CH, Feb’89) and K. Tsianina Lomawaima’s They Called It Prairie Light (CH, Oct’94). What those authors have done for individual schools, Adams (Cleveland State Univ.) accomplishes for the whole system of education that developed in the last quarter of the 19th century. That program was animated by the aphorism of Richard Henry Pratt, one of its most ardent evangels: “Kill the Indian, save the man.” In lively prose, Adams tells the poignant story, rich with nuance, of the relentless war against American Indian children. It is a tale about policy makers who sought to use boarding schools as an instrument for transforming Indian youth to “American” ways of thinking, doing, and living. The study focuses on policy formulation, how that policy was translated into institutional practice, and finally, how students responded. Adams demonstrates convincingly that Native American students were anything but passive recipients of the “curriculum of civilization.” This is, quite simply, a wonderful book. Summing Up: All levels.—L. G. Moses, Oklahoma State University

Boarding school blues: revisiting American Indian educational experiences, ed. and introd. by Clifford E. Trafzer, Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc. Nebraska, 2006. 256p ISBN 0803244460, $45.00; ISBN 0803294638 pbk, $20.00; ISBN 9780803244467, $45.00; ISBN 9780803294639 pbk, $20.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE August 2007

The strength of this book, which owes its genesis to a 2002 symposium held at Sherman Indian High School in Riverside, CA, is the intentional decision by many of the authors to escape the restrictive positive/negative dichotomy that has limited the interpretations of many others who have examined the history of American Indian boarding schools. As a result, readers can experience the areas of gray that students experienced, thereby learning to appreciate the complexity of boarding school life. The authors shift the focus of the boarding school experience away from the more traditional institutional histories to the students who attended these “laboratories of civilization” designed by policy makers to hasten the students’ assimilation into Euramerican society. Ironically, the authors’ focus on the students clearly demonstrates that the system implemented to eradicate Native cultures produced a number of unintended consequences, perhaps none more important than the acquisition of knowledge and skills that would one day enable many boarding school alumni to use their education for the benefit of their own people. In the final analysis, the children coped, survived, endured, or prospered. These brave students’ stories are a testament to their adaptability, tenacity, and love for their people. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. —J. L. Brudvig, Dickinson State University

Cahill, Cathleen D. Federal fathers & mothers: a social history of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933. North Carolina, 2011. 368p ISBN 0807834726, $45.00; ISBN 9780807834725, $45.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2011

Richly researched, endnoted, and indexed, with a broad bibliography, this first book is a major contribution. A brief introduction treats federal Indian policy before 1869. Chapters 1 and 2 lead readers through President Grant’s “peaceful assimilation” policy. Three through seven examine the ravages of the severance policy, enforced cultural “whitening” in boarding and day schools, the work of lay teachers of industrial and domestic skills, the impact of policy on familial and intimate relations, and the creation of the roots of a pan-Indian awareness through mixing children and others from different tribes in school and elsewhere, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Chapters 8 and 9 treat post-1934 policy and BIA practices. Cahill (Univ. of New Mexico) ends her book with some sharp judgments on misguided attempts in and through the BIA to impose white norms. Organized as chronological, this work actually consists of expository chapters. This dichotomy, with dense but clear prose and bewilderingly numerous anecdotal examples, makes for a challenging read and a Fiddler on the Roof effect with Tevye repeating “on the one hand … but on the other hand.” Even so, this groundbreaking work will become the standard reference. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. —D. Steeples, Mercer University

Katanski, Amelia V. Learning to write “Indian”: the boarding-school experience and American Indian literature. Oklahoma, 2005. 274p ISBN 0806137193, $24.95. 
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2006

The late-19th-century Native American boarding school was considered central to the assimilation of the American Indian. Viewing the boarding school as a pan-Indian experience, this fine book focuses on the literary production of that period and of the early 20th century. Katanski (Kalamazoo College) pays special attention to the Carlisle Indian School, which was the best-publicized model of Native boarding-school experience. She also includes detailed discussions of the autobiographical writings of Native American writers Charles Eastman and Gertrude Bonnin. She explores the creation of an “Indian” voice and creates a theoretical framework which sees the students as negotiating and mediating the demands of bicultural experience so as to create a repertoire of identity positions that allowed them to change but retain their sense of cultural identity. Katanski also surveys the impact of boarding-school literature on contemporary Native American literature and documents its influence as well as the continuation of bicultural strategies. This book makes a substantial and lasting contribution to the study of Native American literature and education. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. —J. Ruppert, University of Alaska Fairbanks

A Knock on the door: the essential history of residential schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Edited and abridged. University of Manitoba/National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, 2016. 274p bibl afp ISBN 9780887557859 pbk, $17.95; ISBN 9780887555381 ebook, $8.99. 
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2016

This is an abridged edition of the massive six-volume report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada that between 2008 and 2015 detailed in 7,000 interviews and 5 million documents the mental, sexual, and physical abuse of Indigenous students in boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and run by Catholic and Protestant religious groups.  The schools were chronically underfunded and mostly “badly constructed, poorly maintained, overcrowded, unsanitary fire traps.”  Catholic organizations ran twice as many schools as the Protestants.  Students were removed from their families and usually labored at the schools for one-half day to make up for the schools’ lack of funding, and took limited academic instruction the other half.  The first school opened in 1834 and the last one closed in 2000.  Since then, 8,500 survivors have filed lawsuits against the government over the abuse they received.  In 2006, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was instituted to compensate students for their pain and suffering, and in 2008, Prime Minister Harper apologized for the cultural genocide inflicted on Canada’s Indigenous population.  This book presents a searing story of man’s inhumanity to man. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries. —J. A. Reyhner, Northern Arizona University

Lindsay, Brendan C. Murder state: California’s Native American genocide, 1846-1873. Nebraska, 2012. 436p ISBN 9780803224803, $70.00. 
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2013

Lindsay (Univ. of Central Florida) explores the destruction of California’s Native peoples and the circumstances that not only allowed but encouraged extermination. Establishing the treatment of Indians in California as “openly arrived at and executed genocide,” the author demonstrates that such genocide was supported and sanctioned by a state government run by pioneers, a complicit federal government, an apathetic citizenry, and a press that openly reported on and encouraged a “war of extermination.” Lindsay explores the fear of Native peoples that was established in the minds of immigrants and that resulted in fear and rash behavior along the trail westward. He explores the perpetration of genocide in California, establishing that the “clever manipulation of democracy” led to the murder of Indians as part of a process that, as he illustrates in the book’s third part, was clearly supported by governmental and legal systems that allowed and explicitly approved extermination. Moving from overt genocide to the genocidal institutions of allotment, boarding schools, and linguistic and cultural destruction, Lindsay argues that this culture of extermination must be claimed as part of US history. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —J. B. Edwards, University of Montana

Mauro, Hayes Peter. The art of Americanization at the Carlisle Indian School. New Mexico, 2011. 178p ISBN 9780826349200, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2012

The story of the Carlisle Indian School (and others like it) is now a well-known blot upon the pages of American history. Less well known are the stories behind the images used to convey its mission. Established by an 1879 congressional act, this paramilitary-style residential boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, aimed to solve the “Indian question” by forcibly assimilating and Americanizing Native American children. A major part of this process was depicted by the “before and after” portrait. These images displayed individuals in their allegedly degenerate state before Americanization and then as productive, happy new citizens at its conclusion. Using these portraits as a springboard, Mauro (Queensborough Community College) provides a view into this little-known world of advertising and documentary art at the turn of the last century. In analyzing the visual imagery produced at the school, he considers both cultural contexts and themes specific to the US and technical aspects of the items produced. Set against these considerations are overtones of racism and prejudice easily identifiable in 2011, but mundane and accepted in 1901. Prolific and superbly crafted black-and-white images complement the author’s narrative. Valuable for all academic libraries, especially those with Native American studies or American art history courses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —A. Wirkkala, NHTI, Concord’s Community College

Recovering Native American writings in the boarding school press, ed by Jacqueline Emery. Nebraska, 2017. 348p bibl index ISBN 9780803276758, $55.00; ISBN 9781496204073 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2018

Emery (SUNY, Old Westbury) presents texts recovered from Native American boarding-school newspapers, texts that add new complexity to understanding of ways Native Americans have responded to domination by “mainstream” American society and to various uses Natives made of English literacy imposed on them in the name of “civilizing” them. The typical view of the Indian schools is one of systematic deracination, especially from 1870 to 1930, the period from which these writings are drawn. The texts—those in part 1 letters, essays, editorials, and short stories by boarding school students, those in part 2 speeches, argument, folktales, autobiography, and so on by Native public intellectuals—go a long way toward showing the degree to which some embraced assimilationist rhetoric and others saw literacy and publishing as means to adapting, surviving, resisting, “talking back,” and ultimately claiming agency over their own futures in a society that, to differing degrees, saw their existence as a problem to be solved. Both sections are loosely chronological. This book complements Changing Is Not Vanishing: A Collection of Early American Indian Poetry to 1930, ed. by Robert Dale Parker (CH, Nov’11, 49-1317), and resonates interestingly with Laura Furlan’s Indigenous Cities (2017), which demonstrates Native adaptation and survival in contemporary urban America. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty. —M. F. McClure, Virginia State University

Stout, Mary A. Native American boarding schools. Greenwood, 2012. 214p ISBN 9780313386763, $58.00; ISBN 9780313386770 ebook, contact publisher for price. 
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2012

Stout (retired academic librarian and author) offers an introduction to the history of American Indian schools by presenting short histories of some of the more important schools that existed. A chronology follows the introduction, which sets out the plan for the book. The first two chapters cover the history of institutional education for American Indians, starting from the Colonial period, when various religious denominations were involved in education, and extending to 1875, when the US government became involved in the education of American Indians. Chapters 3-7 tell the stories of various schools from different times in history. In chapter 8, Stout discusses the closure of US government-run schools and the opening of schools run by American Indian tribes and nations. Chapter 9 discusses the boarding schools’ legacy–both the good and the bad aspects. Each chapter has a short bibliography. Also included are nine short biographies, excerpts from primary documents, a glossary, and an annotated bibliography with books, audiovisual materials, journals, and Internet sites. Several black-and-white illustrations and photos appear throughout the book. Summing Up: Recommended. Public and academic libraries with Native American and education sections; lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —B. S. Exton, St. Gregory’s University

Woolford, Andrew. This benevolent experiment: Indigenous boarding schools, genocide, and redress in Canada and the United States. University of Manitoba, 2015. 431p bibl index afp ISBN 9780887557866 pbk, $27.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2016

This important book, which students, scholars, and policy makers in the US and Canada should read, is a testament to the quality of the work and the still limited understanding of its subject in both countries.  Sociologist Woolford (Univ. of Manitoba, Canada) provides a nuanced account of the inception, intention, and impacts of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples in North America.  Far more than compiling a catalog of abuses, he offers a critical assessment of settler colonialism, its targeting of Native nations for elimination and later assimilation, the place of education in such efforts, and more recent calls for redress and justice.  Woolford rightfully places boarding schools and the experiences of Indigenous people in dialogue with the increasingly sophisticated literature on genocide.  While boarding schools have received much scrutiny, Woolford deserves praise for his comparative history.  It allows a fuller understanding of boarding and residential schools in each country, while highlighting the common patterns and processes uniting them.  Of special note, the book offers a compelling interpretation of the differing paths toward redress in the US and Canada, stressing a combination of discursive, political, and structural elements. Summing Up: Essential. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —C. R. King, Washington State University