The Untold Story of Native American Boarding Schools

A recent report by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition sheds light on a dark chapter in American history: the existence of Indigenous boarding schools. Contrary to popular knowledge, these schools were not just a handful, but at least 523 institutions that have operated since the 19th century, with some still in operation today. The purpose of these schools, many of which were run by the federal government, was to assimilate Native American children into mainstream White society.

The new list compiled by the coalition surpasses the previously reported number of boarding schools, revealing the extent to which Indigenous children were affected. According to Deborah Parker, CEO of the coalition, there is still much we do not know about these schools. While efforts are being made to access records from churches and institutions, the process of uncovering the truth remains challenging.

One of the main reasons for the lack of information is that Indigenous families are still searching for their relatives who were taken to boarding schools. Many children died during their time at these schools, yet their final resting places remain largely unknown. This uncertainty compounds the pain experienced by Native American communities to this day.

The criteria used by the coalition in compiling the list were strict: the institutions must have been specifically designed for Native American children, had an educational component, and housed students for any period of time. This differs from the criteria used by the Department of Interior, which focused solely on schools opened before 1969 that were operated or supported by the federal government.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Native American children faced unimaginable hardships in these schools. They were stripped of their identities, forced to abandon their languages, and had their cultural practices suppressed. Many schools, whether operated by the government or religious groups, became sites of abuse, neglect, and corporal punishment.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement to bring awareness to the legacy of boarding schools. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary, has launched an initiative to investigate these schools and uncover the truth. Preliminary investigations have already revealed that at least 500 Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children died in these schools, with the number expected to rise as further investigations are conducted.

The untold stories of Native American boarding schools serve as a reminder of the resilience of Indigenous communities and the need for historical reckoning. Only by acknowledging and understanding this painful history can we work towards healing and reconciliation.


What were Indigenous boarding schools?

Indigenous boarding schools were institutions that aimed to assimilate Native American children into mainstream White society. These schools operated from the 19th century onwards and involved the stripping of Indigenous children’s cultural identities, languages, and practices.

How many Indigenous boarding schools existed?

According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, at least 523 Indigenous boarding schools have been identified. This number surpasses previously reported figures and highlights the scale of this dark chapter in American history.

Who ran these boarding schools?

Many Indigenous boarding schools were operated by the federal government, with over 400 schools directly supported by the government between 1819 and 1969. However, numerous schools were also run by religious groups and churches under the provisions of the Civilization Fund Act passed in 1819.

What was life like for Indigenous children in these schools?

Life in Indigenous boarding schools was marked by the suppression of cultural identity. Native American children were forcibly renamed, forbidden to use their Indigenous languages, and subjected to harsh discipline. Many schools became sites of abuse, neglect, and corporal punishment, creating lasting trauma for the students.

Why is it important to remember this history?

Remembering the history of Indigenous boarding schools is crucial for acknowledging the systemic mistreatment and cultural erasure suffered by Native American communities. By understanding this painful past, society can work towards healing, reconciliation, and ensuring the rights and dignity of Indigenous peoples.