Indian Boarding Schools’ Impact on Native Americans


In the US and Canada, education was used as a tool to address the so-called Indian question by outing children from their families and placing them in boarding schools. Namely, children aged five and older were forcibly removed from their families, while only the English language was used during lessons. Some Indian children and their parents chose these schools as the only opportunity to receive an education. It should be stated that the first school was introduced as an experiment for prisoners at Fort Marion, in St. Augustine, Florida (Martinez 200). The Catholic Church created a lot of boarding schools after the Civil War, and annuities were taken from the tribes.

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The paramount idea of the Indian boarding schools, which were largely closed only in 2007, was to repress all the cultural ties of children they had before. The military-style and punishment were integral parts of the system that was abusive and violent. It was declared by the government and the missionary initiative that the Indian residential schools aimed to civilize the Native Americans, yet all the efforts were devoted to making students forget their language, traditions, and families. The use of the unskilled labor force was another benefit of the boarding schools for the industries and the government.

A range of authors criticizes the Indian boarding schools, emphasizing their destructive impact on the identity of the given population. According to Child, “boarding schools were yet another form of segregation in American education, and served the interests of a White majority” (1). Basil Johnston stated: “Bells and whistles, gongs and flappers represent everything connected with sound management – order, authority, discipline, efficiency, system, organization, schedule, conformity … but also subservience, uniformity, docility, surrender” (Woolford 221).

Authors’ Work and Life Experiences

The author of the first quote, Brenda J. Child, was born on the Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation and educated in the local boarding school for Indians. The experience of Child is largely represented in her publications and work on the improvement of the life of Native Americans. For example, her book Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940 shows the memories of her family lives. She also promotes research on the Indigenous populations as the President of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. The second quote documented by Woolford refers to Basil Johnston, a Canadian scholar, and teacher, who also criticized the Indian boarding schools. He was born in the Parry Island Indian Reserve. The experience of Johnston can be found in his book titled Indian School Days, which is about his studying at the St. Peter Claver School for Boys as a part of the residential school system.

The first quote explains the very nature of the Indian boarding schools that were designed to meet the needs of the While population while demoralizing Indians. Life outside the family and hard work were used by the country authorities as a means of imposing on them a new culture. As for the second quote, it clarifies the inside system from the perspective of a student. Sound management was used to bend children and teenagers to bend to the will of Whites and make them obedient. Such an order promoted the prevention of runaways, riots, and general self-will since people with depressed desires and attitudes are much easier to control. The monastic and military forms of discipline were declared as the way to save the souls of the Natives.

Experience of Children

The interests of the White majority were to segregate the families of the Native population to make them more obedient since they combated their rights and identity. The first quote is directly related to the fact that children were taken from their families forcibly without the opportunity to stay with their parents. In many cases, children did not face their mothers and fathers for years, which made a negative impact not only on their relationships but also on cultural continuity. The dissociated people are easy to manage and direct when it comes to governing them. One may note an example related to runaway attempts: when a student tries to escape from the boarding school, the law enforcement was used to punish him or her (Woolford 222). The overall military disciplinary means also prove the intentional and coercive nature of the educational system applied to the Indigenous tribes.

In terms of the second quote, one may claim that nomadism inherent in the life of the Natives was eradicated in the boarding schools. The bells of various types and flappers were in use to call the students to do the ordered occupation. As it is discussed by Woolford in his book, the strict schedule was set for the whole day, from the early awakening to the compulsory spiritual events (225). It was stated by the schools’ administration that the Natives like African-Americans could not indecently understand the value of time. In other words, the nomadic style of life practiced by the local population was regarded as an inappropriate one. Children who experienced such changes tended to adopt new behavioral patterns, thus forgetting their cultural features, which was targeted by the Whites.

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Impact on Children and Native American Communities

The Native American boarding schools in the US were seen by Indians as the means for the government to achieve their assimilation into the dominant American culture. Some of their efforts included cutting their hair, forcing them to learn Christianity, speak English, and live in a strict military way. Since children experienced violence and bullying from a young age, being far from their parents, they grew emotionally closed, carrying a lot of psychological traumas from the violence they experienced (Child 26). Likewise a chain reaction, it was difficult for them to create their own healthy families and build relationships with other people. As a result, drunkenness was a characteristic sign in the Indian community. Alcohol was used to forget something and forget about inner pain and violence.

The consideration of the historical trauma theory in the context of the Indian background shows that they faced something like Jews during the Holocaust or Veterans of the war. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another symptom that was found in many adults who studied at the boarding schools: 22% of Indians have PTSD compared to 8% of the overall US population (Martinez 201). In terms of culture, many practices were retained, including signing songs, providing rituals, and community healing. Most importantly, the generational emotional distress should be noted as even the children of those who were in the Indian boarding stress continue to feel vulnerable. During the last 20-10 years, the nation of survived Indians has gradually recovered and is being healed of spiritual and psychological traumas.


To conclude, it should be stressed that the Indian boarding schools represented the institutions that forcibly put Native American children and teenagers in educational settings. They disintegrated families to achieve the loss of their cultural identity and total assimilation with the White population. Launched as the experiment in a prison environment, the boarding schools were opened in many areas, taking more and more students. This argues that the experience of children was negative to their psychological well-being and cultural identification. The military order of schools, sound management, law enforcement system, forced labor, and a lot of prohibitions were the key features of these institutions. Several scholars stood against the schools, and their works help to better understand the adverse role the boarding schools made on the Indians.

The evidence observed within this paper shows that the Native American community was significantly affected by the fact that their children and teenagers were intentionally disjoined from them. In addition to the struggles faced by children during education, their psychological and emotional states were also damaged. Many survived Natives had PTSD and depression, which led to alcohol abuse and subsequent development of diseases. At the same time, the generational continuity review demonstrates that the Indians became more predisposed to psychological disorders even though they did not directly experience any negative impact on the educational system. In many cases, the events related to the boarding schools are compared to the Holocaust faced by Jews or symptoms of war veterans. In recent years, the Native American communities of the US and Canada try to revive their culture by engaging in spiritual practices and restoring the relationships with each other.

Works Cited

Child, Brenda J. “Indian Boarding Schools.” Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, vol. 13, no. 1, 2016, pp. 25-27.

Martinez, Donna. “School Culture and American Indian Educational outcomes.” Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 116, 2014, pp. 199-205.

Woolford, Andrew. This Benevolent Experiment: Indigenous Boarding Schools, Genocide, and Redress in Canada and the United States. University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

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StudyCorgi. "Indian Boarding Schools' Impact on Native Americans." June 16, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Indian Boarding Schools' Impact on Native Americans." June 16, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Indian Boarding Schools' Impact on Native Americans'. 16 June.

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