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Boarding School

Student body assembled on the Carlisle Indian School Grounds, 1892.

For Native American children the boarding school experience necessitated their transformation from unincorporated members of Native America to participants in the culture of incorporation. For many, boarding school represented the first contact Native American children had with the outside white world. When they arrived at boarding school they were greeted by white teachers and missionaries who hoped to "civilize" them. Famous boarding schools like the Carlisle School (pictured above) and the Hampton Institute engaged in a brutal program of forced incorporation. The children, who were many times dragged from their homes without the knowledge of their parents, were denied the right to speak in their native tongue, call each other by native names, and were forced to leave the last vestiges of their traditional lifestyle, including their long black hair, at the gates of the school.

The Boarding School experience was, according to one of its harshest and most vocal critics, Zitkala Sa, a"miserable state of cultural dislocation," that created problems long after the children returned home. As the stories below reveal the boarding school experience not only alienated the children from their families but also from their culture as many of the children were removed to early to remember all but traces of their traditional life styles.

By Ah-nen-la-de-ni[Daniel La France]

In this autobiographical tale the author shares his experience as a young man in an American system of cultural imperialism so pervasive that the name applied to Ah-nen-la-de-ni's people, the "Mohawk," had an English, not a Native American origination. Ah-nen-la-de-ni's story poignantly demonstrates the emotional and physical burdens placed on young Native American children at these institutions of incorporation. Using the term "inmates" to describe the students, Ah-nen-la-de-ni reveals the physical and psychological fear felt by the young students and the state of cultural purgatory that this experience left its victims in as they were at once alienated from their own culture and denied access to the culture of the mainstream.

The School Days of an Indian Girl

An Indian Teacher Among Indians

by Zitkala Sa [Gertrude Bonnin]


These stories written by Zitkala Sa reveal the Boarding School experience from the perspective of student and teacher. By publishing these stories in the Atlantic Monthly, Sa succeeded in blowing the whistle on the corruption and degradation of the boarding school system.

Angel Decora--An Autobiography

Angel De Cora, one of the first Native American illustrators, provides a rare first person account of what was essentially her own kidnapping. Taken from her family without their knowledge she was shipped off the the Hampton Institute. DeCora would not see her family for three years. Her own designs are uses as illustrations for this text and add to her story.



The Carlisle School Online

Includes excellent images, biographies of students, and a valuable links page.

Remembering our Indian School Days

The Heard Exhibition on The Boarding School Experience

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Designed and Created by Laura Grand-Jean MA '01