Boarding School Legacy Put in Context

Many people ask about the source of mistrust amongst Natives with formal education. Sadly, few Americans have heard about the terrible legacy of boarding schools that were established for Native children as a tool of assimilation. And what fewer people know is that these schools would later become the catalyst for the tribal college movement.

An article published in Indian Country Today details the many abuses that Native students in these schools suffered at the hands of their educators. In addition to being robbed of their languages and cultures, they were severely punished if they attempted to speak their language, practice their faith, or run away to go home. These punishments were so severe that they often led to death. Children as young as six years old were removed from their families and often shipped thousands of miles away to be “educated” where they were instead malnourished and used as slave labor, unable to see their families until they were 18.

This sad legacy led to the American Indian community’s decision in the 1960s to establish tribal colleges that would educate their people at home. Students would get a first-rate education while also learning more about their language, cultures, and traditions, in a nurturing and supportive environment that fostered creativity, Native ingenuity, and inclusivity.

The first tribal college was established 42 years ago. Today there are 33 accredited tribal colleges and universities, with three working towards accreditation. Tribal colleges and Indian education have come a long way. We want to thank our supporters of Native education and encourage them to learn more about its history. We would also like to hear our Native students’, faculty, and staffs’ stories and would like to encourage you share your educational experiences in the comments on this blog or by dropping us a line at dhorwedel@collegefund.org

 

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