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Essay on Native American Boarding Schools

Indian boarding schools were opened to assimilate Native Americans. The US government was establishing multiple schools around the country at the turn of the 20th century. Following the implementation of Euro-American standards, it was the optimal way to do it.

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The essay on Native American boarding schools introduces the purposes of these schools and their effects on both students and the whole nation. There are some details describing life for them back there.


Those who haven’t heard about the boarding schools for Indians might even think that it was a good thing. The reality was much crueler. The cases of abuse and even death, there were not uncommon.

Today, there are many issues Native Americans have to deal with daily. They should be given all the support and secure life they need. What’s more, the government should introduce some special measures to preserve indigenous culture and languages.

Indian Boarding Schools for Native Americans

There are some ugly but real facts about Native American boarding schools. There is the whole list of them below, in the next section. We would discuss how it all began.

The main reason for establishing these schools was to destroy the culture of Indians. The Euro-American way of life was enforced instead. It was devastating for Native Americans because everything seemed to be alien to them.

Assimilation wasn’t the only purpose, despite being the primary one. Some other reasons include making the Indian families weaker. Taking away their children was the best way to do it. Parents were left heartbroken.

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At first, Christian missionaries were the ones to start opening Indian boarding schools. Their intention was quite gracious as they wanted to educate those people. It quickly became twisted when Richard Henry Pratt decided to take over.

He was an officer in the US army. Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School was nothing about a partnership between nations. That school became the first institution to adopt the policy of total assimilation of Indians. Native Americans didn’t see much mercy from the teachers there.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was created on the base of the military facility. The curriculum resembled everything taught in prisons. There was a reason for that. Pratt decided on such a policy after conducting some “experiments” on Indians in prison.

He found that educating them about manners and the English language helped their well-being. Therefore, he didn’t just decide to spread knowledge among Native Americans. Pratt wanted to destroy their cultural identity and make them become Americans.

The church was one of the main parts interested in establishing boarding schools for Indians. The goal was the same – civilizing savages. Brutal and violent acts against Native Americans were covered up by excuses.

Manifest destiny was the most popular one. People thought that destroying the lands and culture of indigenous people was destined by God. They would dominate the whole continent and expand their power, “assimilating” Indians.

The US was spreading capitalism and democracy in the name of God. The good Christians would use manifest destiny to proceed with the colonization with no hesitation.

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According to that religious belief, it was the duty of missionaries to enlighten the Indians. They were spreading a gospel and trying to guide the natives.The idea was that Native Americans would give up their unholy beliefs and let themselves be colonized.

Therefore, it seems like civilizing Indians wasn’t the only thing the church was aiming for. And since there should always be the divine mission, there was one. At the same time, boarding schools helped Christians spread the gospel.

The Doctrine of Discovery was one of the main driving forces for colonization, after the manifest destiny. The Doctrine was created by European monarchies to make the colonization legal. This way, it was a legitimate document saying that Americans could take away the lands from the indigenous people.

Moreover, it appeared to be a critical issue in starting conflicts. Up until now, there are unsettled property rights that include some aspects of the Discovery doctrine.

This method was used to claim the empty lands discovered by Americans. The system of communal land was a common practice for Indians. However, Americans came and brought their vision of how things work with them.

They were more into individualism. Therefore, owning a private piece of land was the right way for them. Native American boarding schools were helping to re-educate Indians about the way they share properties. Their whole way of life had to stop existing.

Boarding School Experience

Living in the Indian Boarding Schools was not the most pleasant experience. Physical and psychological abuse of children every day was a common practice there. Nothing to wonder about taking into consideration the goals those schools were pursuing.

Some survivors recall being sent there at as young as six years old. Kids who were supposed to follow their Indian traditions till the end of their lives were shaved. In their culture, hair has a connection with spirit, so cutting it is only allowed under certain circumstances. And going to school is not one of them.

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Everything connected with their culture was forbidden. It is evident that in this way, Indians are changed inside and out. They had their identities stolen. According to the witnesses, everything from speaking their native language to wearing long hair was banned in schools.

As another preventive measure, the kids were separated from their families. They weren’t allowed to see their parents at all. Moreover, Native American names were replaced by European ones.

In his famous speech in 1892, Pratt said that the killed Indian was “the only good Indian.” It is a great example showing that Americans didn’t just intend Indians to culturally assimilate. They wanted Native Americans’ culture to die out, and all the methods implemented highlight it.

Pratt is a famous figure who was making history related to the American Indian boarding schools. It appears that he was doing it all to save Indians, or that was what he thought.

That brilliant idea came to Pratt after he came across some Native Americans in prison in Florida. After teaching them some English and basic economics, he saw some positive changes and decided to help out the whole nation. This way, the boarding schools were established, and they were aiming to replace Indian culture with the American one.

Maybe he had the very best intentions to do it. However, it was not reflected in the way children were treated in the schools. Very soon, they had to suffer horrible abuses and be repressed by the alien culture.

There were about 100 Native American boarding schools across the US. Some were opened in Canada as well. However, they all shared the same policy. Children were taken away from their families.

Some victims share their emotional experience of being separated from their parents. Mothers were howling as the buses with their kids were leaving. It is undoubtedly different from the definition of Indians given by annual reports. It was noted that they were savages, and their children should be reeducated at any cost.

However, there was another side to this issue. Some parents simply didn’t have any other choice but to give their kids away to the boarding schools. Among all the types of schools, those were the only available for Indians. They weren’t welcome in any other public school.

The curriculum was also different. Instead of science and math, Native Americans were studying trades according to gender, of course. Girls learned how to be good housewives, and boys were destined to become carpenters. Simply put, it wasn’t even close to being a decent education for children.

Starvation and beatings were a common punishment. The amount of food was way insufficient. Besides, 10-12-year-old kids were forced to do heavy industrial work. It seems to be quite far from simple cultural assimilation for the sake of Indians.

The federal government took action, proving an investigation regarding the policies of the Indian boarding school. They were also looking into progress made. It showed that students were “overworked, harshly punished, and poorly educated.”

The report made in 1928 showed off the “problem of the Indian Administration.” This finding pointed out that it didn’t seem like the government was genuinely trying to help Native Americans adjust to the new culture.

According to the surveys, teachers felt it was their duty to civilize Indians. It doesn’t sound quite right, considering that their primary role should be teaching.

Some of the survivors still can’t forget their experience in those schools. It left the emotional scars that are hard to heal. As the most painful memory, they recall the picture of their mothers crying.

Nowadays, this whole situation, as well as the issues with the territories, is referred to as the “Indian Problem.” The Kennedy Administration summed it up, calling it a national tragedy.


This essay on boarding school experience may have been eye-opening for someone. There have been many issues regarding the “Indian Problem” discussed. Moreover, it addresses the history of the schools’ establishment and the reflection on the effects they were aiming for.

The former students of Native American boarding schools reported physical and psychological abuse. They were taken from their families when they were still kids. The reality of such schools was quite different from the initial objectives of Pratt. The idea of opening such institutions was his idea.

The schools were implementing harsh policies towards Indian students with the only purpose to kill their culture. There were no advantages to children whatsoever. Their cultural identities were wiped out and replaced with American ones.

The long-term effects of such a genocide cannot be underestimated. There are still some issues going on nowadays with the Native Americans that should be addressed. Otherwise, people risk losing precious cultural heritage and beautiful indigenous languages.

Native American Boarding Schools FAQ

❓ How many Indian boarding schools were there?

Different sources present different data on how many Indian boarding schools there were. Some say there were around 100 schools. Others state there were as many as 357 of them. Residential schools (as they were also called) were opened across the whole territory of the US, on and out of the reservations. Moreover, there were some in Canada as well.

❓ When was the first Indian boarding school established?

The first Indian boarding school was established in 1860. It was located in Washington on the territory of Yakima Indian Reservation. Then, the idea began spreading, and the schools were opened in Oregon. Twenty years later, the authorities saw the need to establish those educational institutions outside the reservation as well. They became the solution to the “Indian Problem.”

❓ Do Indian boarding schools still exist?

Yes, Indian boarding schools still exist. Today, there are a few working schools on the territory of the US. According to the Bureau of Indian Education, there are four schools in different states under their authority. They report three more residential schools. However, they are controlled by Native Americans. Their current policy is nothing like the past horrors.

❓ What was the aim of Carlisle, a boarding school for Indians?

The aim of Carlisle, a boarding school for Indians, was to reeducate Native Americans and assimilate them. It was found in 1879 in Pennsylvania. Students weren’t allowed to speak in their native language and had to accept Christian beliefs. It changed their whole lifestyle. All that was done to replace the Indian culture and traditions with the American ones.

❓ When were Indian boarding schools closed?

Just as with the other information, there is no precise date agreed with every source. For instance, you may find that the Indian boarding schools were closed in the 1970s. Another source would claim that the last one was shut down in 1996. However, the truth is that residential schools still run. Their policy is completely different nowadays, though.

References n.d. Boarding School – Native Words Native Warriors. [online] n.d. Section 5: Indian Boarding Schools | North Dakota Studies. [online]

Bear, C., 2008. NPR Choice Page. [online]

Naugle, R., n.d. Encyclopedia Of The Great Plains | INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS. [online]

Pember, M., 2019. Death By Civilization. [online] The Atlantic. 2019. Indian Boarding Schools. [online]

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