American Indian Boarding School Experiences: Recent Studies from Native Perspectives

Linked with Andrea Smith – USA, with Boarding School Healing Project, and with INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND BOARDING SCHOOLS.

Published on Organization of American Historians OAH, by Julie Davis, not dated (but Reprinted from the OAH Magazine of History, 15 (Winter 2001). ISSN 0882-228X, Copyright (c) 2001, Organization of American Historians).

… 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 twentieth century …

… In Essie’s Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher, we find an individual perspective on the complex meaning of boarding school education for Indian people’s lives and cultural identities. Through this collaborative project, anthropologist Sally McBeth and Shoshone educator Esther Burnett Horne tell Horne’s life story as both a student at Haskell Institute and an instructor in several Indian boarding schools. Despite Haskell’s regimentation and discipline and its goal of Americanization, Horne remembers her time there as a largely positive period in which she gained leadership skills, experienced a sense of community, met her husband, and discovered role models in Native teachers Ruth Muskrat Bronson and Ella Deloria, women who supported the retention of tribal identities. Horne devoted her own career to nurturing Indian cultural identity within the boarding school system, as a teacher at Eufala Creek Girls’ Boarding School and the Wahpeton Indian School in North Dakota. Thus Horne’s life reveals, on an individual level, how Native people perpetuated cultural traditions within institutions originally intended to effect cultural assimilation.

The boarding schools’ ironic legacy of cultural persistence also finds clear expression in Esther Horne’s life story. While at Wahpeton, she worked with Ralph and Rita Erdrich, whose daughter Louise would become a major figure in American Indian literature in the 1980s, and her students included Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, and Leonard Peltier. These men became leaders of the American Indian Movement, through which they worked for Indian people’s political self-determination, advocated a return to traditional spirituality, and cultivated cultural pride … (full long text).

Comments are closed.