What Is the History of Native American Boarding Schools?

Native American boarding schools were a dark chapter in the history of the United States. The boarding schools were established in the late 19th century with the aim of assimilating Native American children into Euro-American culture. The schools were funded by the federal government and operated by various religious organizations, including the Catholic Church.

The Origins of Native American Boarding Schools

The origins of Native American boarding schools can be traced back to the Indian Civilization Act of 1819. The act encouraged the establishment of mission schools to “civilize” Native American children. However, it was not until the late 19th century that the government began funding these schools on a large scale.

In 1879, Captain Richard Pratt founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, which became a model for other boarding schools across the country. The school’s motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” reflecting its mission to erase Native culture and replace it with European-American culture.

The Impact on Native Communities

The boarding schools had a devastating impact on Native communities. Children were forcibly taken from their families and sent to live at these schools, where they were punished for speaking their native languages or practicing their cultural traditions. The schools aimed to strip away all aspects of Native identity and replace it with Euro-American values and customs.

Many children suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at these institutions. They were also often forced to do manual labor, such as farming or household chores, as part of their education.

The trauma inflicted by these experiences had lasting effects on generations of Native Americans. Many lost touch with their cultural heritage and struggled with addiction, mental health issues, and poverty later in life.

The Legacy Today

Today, many Native American communities are still grappling with the legacy of boarding schools. In recent years, there have been efforts to acknowledge and address this history.

In 2009, President Obama issued an official apology to Native Americans for the government’s role in the boarding school system. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 also recognized the importance of keeping Native American children with their families and communities, rather than removing them to be assimilated into mainstream culture.


Native American boarding schools were a tragic attempt at assimilation that had far-reaching and devastating consequences. While efforts have been made to address this dark chapter in history, the legacy continues to impact Native communities today. By acknowledging and learning from this history, we can work towards healing and reconciliation.