NATIVE AMERICAN BOARDING SCHOOLS: What Can Indigenous Millennials Learn From Them?


As an indigenous man living in 2017, I can never understand the trauma that my grandfather’s generation suffered during the boarding school days. I can’t even pretend that the modern educational system is in any way comparable to the horror that they experienced. I can, however, apply critical thinking to the past and recognize patterns in the present. We have the opportunity to look at the past as a lesson to better navigate our future. We do not have to repeat the past! As a parent myself, I look at my two year old son and feel extremely sad knowing that one day his energetic curiosity is going to be systematically destroyed by the public educational system. School is the first step towards assimilation and I personally will not willingly subject my child to indoctrination.

There’s not many Native American families who have not been affected by the boarding school system. If you have ever had experience with Catholic School, it was kind of like that; only a lot worse. We’ve all heard about people getting their mouth’s washed out with soap or being left with cuts and bruises from the physical abuse inflicted by the nuns. If they were willing to do that too young European American students, you can only imagine the horrors that the young Native American children had to face during boarding school.

They really thought they were doing us a favor. They thought that they were going to kill the Indian inside of us and save the man. They thought they were saving us from a life of “savagery” and conditioning us to a life of civilization. We as a collective unit in the Native American culture are still feeling the consequences of the indoctrination of Western thought and philosophy to our culture.

Many families have stories of white men dressed in fancy suits coming to take away their children. The parents of the child had no say in the matter. The children would be abducted from the family because it is the law for a child to go to school. To this very day parents do not have the opportunity to withhold their child from education without consequences from the legal system.

Just for a moment, let’s pretend that boarding school was not abusive. Let’s pretend that boarding school was no different than the modern education system and the child was being brought to kindergarten. When you have a culture that is focused around family, where children were traditionally mentored by a parent or relative, the very thought of their child being taken away to participate in kindergarten would be nothing short than traumatic.

How could we as a society have gone so far from our roots to not be traumatized at our children being taken away from the home and placed in a seat where they are to sit there for multiple hours a day. If the child does not sit and listen, which seems to be against the high-energy curiosity of a child to begin with, they are diagnosed with learning disabilities. Don’t worry though, I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies will appreciate drugging your child up so they’re able to sit half comatose in their seat absorbing information.

Does this not put into perspective how indoctrinated we have become? In just a few short generations we now willingly send our children to school. Many people now take pride in their child succeeding in the educational system. In fact, the educational system to some people is the only way they think they can protect indigenous values. Some people leave to college and claim that they will come back and use their education to help their people. Some people decide that education is a waste of time and would much rather stick around to learn the ancestral lifeways because they do not teach those thing in college.

Thankfully, there are options. There are families that home school their children. This gives them the opportunity to mentor their children. Sure, you will have to teach them all of the standardized education not the law requires the child to know, but many of these families also take the child out in nature to teach them valuable life skills. These families also teach their children how to survive in society.

People say that the educational system is doing nothing more but creating a wage slave, but I don’t even believe it does that. If it was true, they would have taught you how to apply for a job. With the modern educational system if an employer asks what your qualifications are for the job, the young man or women right out of high school may respond with a blank stare followed by “Lincoln was the 16th President.” They know schooling has taught them nothing relevant to most of the jobs in the workforce.

Yes, that is what college is for. The only useful education is the one you have to pay for. The only useful education is one you don’t receive until you’re 18 years old, whereas it was common for children in indigenous cultures to be mentored by a parent or relative as early as the age of 6 to 8 years old. The best part is they didn’t have to go into debt or pay an arm and a leg for this practical education.

Hopefully by exploring alternatives to the public educational system, we can nurture a child’s natural curiosity and develop upon their passions and interests instead of systematically breaking the individuality and free will as if a cowboy was breaking a horse. I will not allow my child to become a broken human being.


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