Indian boarding schools are now helping children reach their potential
With the recent news of the discovery of nearly 1,000 children’s bodies in residential schools in Canada, I began to reflect on residential schools in the United States. In the United States, there has never been a documented account or report of statistics on the number of deaths of children who attended schools over a period of more than 150 years. Schools in the United States were operated by the federal government under the aegis of the United States Department of the Interior.
There are many accounts in tribal oral histories of survivors of the early years that speak of torture and abuse within these institutions.
The best-known Indian residential school in the United States was Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1878, and approximately 1,800 students from Oklahoma attended. Many have not returned home. The founder of the Carlisle Indian School, Richard H. Pratt, is known for a speech in which he declared “Kill the Indian, save the man”.
What about Oklahoma? Oklahoma is now home to 39 tribes and has had many residential schools. Many are still operational. The oldest is Riverside Indian School located in Anadarko, originally a Quaker school which opened in 1871 and renamed Riverside in 1878. Riverside is still in operation and has a waiting list for students.
Each person has a different experience in these institutions, and each generation is different. The first generations were very cruelly treated and essentially stolen from the arms of their mothers, placed in boarding schools to assimilate them into our culture. They were treated as less than human, and the children who died in those early schools were innocent little children born into our tribes and stripped of a cruel existence of loveless, indifferent and abusive systems, enduring torture and even the death.
But everyone’s story is different. My parents and my grandparents both attended residential schools. My parents met at the Chilocco Indian School in Newkirk, Oklahoma. I also attended Carter Seminary during my senior year of high school. The school was in Ardmore and was run by the Chickasaw Nation. . My two maternal grandparents were pureblood citizens of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes who worked at the Concho Indian School. My grandfather was safe, and my grandmother was a cook and later the head nurse in the girls’ dormitory. My grandmother was very motherly and caring for the girls and prayed with them when they were upset. The Indian Concho School closed in 1980.
When I attended residential school, a few cousins also attended. My grandmother often came to spend the weekend in Ardmore. She stayed with us all day at school, but spent the majority of the time with my cousins and the girls from Kindergarten to Grade 6, reading stories and talking, cuddling and cuddling. let them eat the bags of snacks and candy she brought.
Carter Seminary welcomed children up to grade 12. It was a very regimented program every day. Nothing we did was supervised. It was not a difficult routine and I adapted well because I had constant family contact and visits.
Most of the people I know who have attended residential schools are overachievers, independent and successful.
Others have significant challenges. The intergenerational trauma of those who attended schools where they were abused or suffered trauma continues throughout their lives. Those who grew up in these boarding schools did not grow up with a family foundation and instead learned to take care of “oneself”. This is also why there are today a large number of native foster children and family dysfunctions within our tribes.
Many children still attend residential schools in Oklahoma and across the country. Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah and Riverside Indian School are two of the state’s top track and field and basketball programs and are highly sought after schools by Indigenous students. School staff are Indigenous and the dynamics have changed. What was once used for torture and death to “kill the Indian and save man” is now used to help children achieve their highest potential and encourage cultural learning, healthy living and teaching. superior.
Currently, the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes are conducting a research project on the Indian School of Concho – researching oral history and documenting historical experiences from the 1900s to the present day. They look for lived experiences of attending or working at school. The information will be archived for informational and historical purposes. Call 405-422-7416 to participate.
In the coming year, Home Secretary Deb Haaland will investigate Indian boarding school programs in the United States. We will wait to see the results.
LaRenda Morgan is a government affairs officer for the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.