The Bureau of Indian Affairs established the first Native American boarding school in 1860 in the Yakima (now Yakama) Indian Reservation in Yakama, Washington. Shortly thereafter in 1879, Congress established the first Native American boarding school out of reservation – the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The goal of these boarding schools, and many others, was to force Native Americans to assimilate into the mainstream culture – to adopt a Protestant ideology in the mid-19th century. By 1926, 83% of Indian school-aged children attended one of the 367 boarding schools in 29 states. The result was the systematic destruction of Native American cultures and languages, trauma, the use of abusive punishment, and even death from tuberculosis and influenza. Today, Native Americans are either boarding school survivors or are likely a generation away from someone who attended boarding school. Many of these boarding schools, which are a source of historical and current trauma for Native Americans, did not close until the 1970s.
The American Indian College Fund (College Fund), the nation’s largest charitable foundation that supports indigenous higher education (including 35 tribal colleges and universities), and Healing American Boarding School (NABS) have joined forces to offer scholarships to the surviving descendants of boarding schools. The College Fund and NABS awarded 20 scholarships of $3,000 each during the 2021-22 academic year. Scholarships acknowledge the experiences of boarding school survivors and allow families to come together and heal. In the application process, students—who must be U.S. citizens, tribal members, or descendants of federal or state-recognized tribes—submitted a 500-word essay about their relationship to a boarding school survivor in their family. This process is designed to promote healing, while recognizing the impact this trauma has on families’ lives.
Terry Lee Medina, a scholarship recipient and registered member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska who teaches business at Little Priest College in Winnebago, Nebraska, shared, “I was raised by my grandmother, and I remember Gaggy often describing abuse at school. She said she She had nightmares of those times and how she escaped on foot. She walked for miles and miles and walked the train tracks to her home in Winnebago because she was afraid of being caught and taken back to boarding school.” Madina added that her grandmother “talked about nuns and priests doing terrible things to Native American children. They beat them with rulers until they slapped them in the face. There were sexual, verbal and physical abuse.” One of the stories that emerged from Medina about her grandmother got into trouble because she spoke a few words in her mother tongue. A nun hits her grandmother with a ruler for speaking her own language. However, as Medina shared, her grandmother grabbed the grove and beat the nun.
According to Sheryl Crazy Poole, President of the College Trust, “It is well documented that children and young people have suffered from all kinds of abuse. Assimilation has been a tool used to ensure that indigenous resources can be taken. Both land grabs and access to food resources, and the dispossession of indigenous peoples from Their homeland is rooted in the genocidal practices of war, the deliberate spread of disease, and the firm belief of European colonizers in the superiority of their race.”
Tom SwiftBird, also a scholarship holder and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe who teaches tribal legal studies at Oglala Lakota College, said, “My great-uncles were often hungry at Rapid City boarding school. They would steal food from the pantry at night. At one point, he tried Some of them escaped back to Pine Ridge Reservation. They ended up in a winter storm, and some of them lost their toes and toes to frostbite.” He continued, “After speaking with my grandmother, [I learned] Boarding school was mostly negative: a place where she and her family were abused and lonely.” Although even in a negative environment, Swiftbird mentioned that his grandmother saw some positives. She loved learning and for the first time in her life, she had access to a library of books.
SwiftBird shared some of the long-term effects of attending a boarding school, noting that many of his relatives “suffered from addiction later in life.” Research shows that trauma from Native American boarding schools often leads to addiction and other challenges in the lives of survivors.
As Swiftbird noted “I think [my family’s] Feelings were complicated about the Lakota culture, too. They have seen so much beauty in returning to the culture; However, after realizing that everything was bad in the Lakota in their formative years, it carried some marks even as they got older.” When he was in college, taking Lakota lessons, learning to speak, his grandmother found it difficult to practice and talk to him. She appreciated the ways the Lakota language was going through a revival. She stated, “Loving to see more and more T-shirts and hats with the Native Pride logo on them.” After. Swiftbird lamented that even then, his grandmother found it “difficult to speak the Lakota.” Because speakers were punished for using it and “made like a bad thing in boarding school.” SwiftBird proudly added, “I go to school for my grandmother because she couldn’t finish, and I will make it for her.”
Tribal Colleges and Universities, born out of the Native American self-determination movement of the 1970s, the American Indian College Fund supports successful educational achievement, student self-identity, and strong self-esteem as a response to community and culture. The narrowness of the boarding schools. According to Crazy Bull, “Boarding schools, as a deliberate and largely successful attempt to disrupt [the Native] way of living, it requires us to take the same kind of deliberate approach to restorative practices.”
Another scholarship recipient – Johnny Mondragon – who is also a registered member of the Blackfeet Nation and a student at Bay Mills Community College majoring in psychology, said, “My father was a student at Cut Bank Boarding School from 1965 to 1969 from ages 6 to 10. He had experience Very negative during his time there, and I think it affected his life and his entire family…. He explained that it’s just like prison, and that “everything that happens in prison happened there.” From the perspective of Kristin Denisi Macliffe, CEO of NABS Healing Coalition, The scholarships are a first step for the grandchildren of boarding schools to heal intergenerational trauma.She stated that the program helps students “change their narratives, reclaiming what was taken from them.” [their families] through Indian boarding schools.”
In contrast to the education imposed on Native Americans, tribal colleges and universities—institutions established by and for Native Americans—incorporate cultural knowledge, history, and symbolism. They also offer community outreach and restorative academic courses, such as Native American arts and Native American studies. Crazy Bull of the College Fund reminds us, “Because boarding schools existed for the express purpose of eliminating indigenous identity to enforce assimilation, we as educators must mediate cultural knowledge and practice cultural traditions.”