Can you imagine someone coming to your home and telling you that your children have to leave home immediately? And go live at a boarding school, hundreds or thousands of miles away?
That is what happened to Native American parents and children when the U.S. Congress authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to create rules requiring Indian children to attend these schools. This 1891 Congress also authorized the Indian Office to withhold rations, clothing and other annuities from Native parents who would not send and keep their children in school. Some children were as young as four years old and were enrolled in Chirstian and government-run boarding schools.
Captain Richard H. Pratt was the creator and advocate of this boarding school movement. He rejected the American West slogan, “The only good Indian was a dead one'' and said the proper goal was to “Kill the Indian…and save the man.” He started the Carlisle Boarding School in Carlisle, P in 1879. Half of the day was spent in the classroom and the other half was spent in manual labor.
There were at least sixteen boarding schools in Minnesota that enrolled students from all eleven of the state’s reservations. These schools started in 1871 with the White Earth Indian School, which had room for 110 students. In 1902 St. Mary’s Mission boarded about 62 students, Red Lake School 77 and Cross Lake 42. More than 2,000 Indian students attended the boarding school at Morris during its history.
Discipline at the schools was harsh, including cells where students were confined and given only bread and water. The children’s hair was cut short, their clothing and possessions were taken and they were required to wear “caucasian style” clothing. They were forbidden from speaking their Native languages and were harshly punished if caught.
Many Native parents resisted sending their children to these schools and tried to stay in touch with them when their resistance failed. In 1928 the Meriam Report called the schools grossly inadequate which resulted in the government building day schools on reservations. By the end of the 1970’s, most of the boarding schools had shut down.
Earlier this year, the St. Benedict nuns wrote a letter to the White Earth Nation, apologizing for the religious order’s role in the boarding school located there. This was one of the first direct apologies in the nation, according to a tribal official.
Churches are being asked to honor and remember the Native children who never made it home. We can do this by hanging an orange banner in the sanctuary or other common space.
You can find out more about the first Indian boarding schools by watching Home from School: The Children of Carlisle which is premiering on TPT this Tuesday, November 23 at 8 pm.