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THE HISTORY

WARNING. Content below contains upsetting and difficult history.

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Between 1869 and 1980 hundreds of thousands of indigenous children attended residential schools under the federal government's policy of forced assimilation. As the Indian Wars on the American frontier neared their end, this policy of forced assimilation worked to continue solving “the Indian problem” by severing cultural ties between generations of American Indians.  According to the boarding School Healing Coalition, by 1900 there were 20,000 children in boarding schools, and by 1925 that number had more than tripled. By 1926, 83 percent of Native children attended boarding schools.

The children who attended boarding schools were taught basic reading and writing, arithmetic, and various trades in the hope that they would become “normal” Americans. This instruction originated from the perspective that you could “kill the Indian and save the man”. The policy was viewed as an act of kindness and compassion by the federal government and the institutions that provided it, came at a great cultural and social-emotional cost that left lasting effects on generations of Native Americans. Attendees of boarding schools are often referred to as victims because of the trauma they endured while living at these schools.  

In 2008, The Canadian government passed the Indian Settlement Act Truth and Reconciliation Act to identify the scope of its own past treatment of Native Americans. Canada has formally apologized for its policies and has even offered payments to Native American communities. The United States, however, has never acknowledged its past treatment of Native Americans. This year, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative in an effort to formally document the legacy of previous United States policy.