A brief history of American Indian boarding schools

Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society “Intermediate” students inside a classroom at an American Indian boarding school in Beaulieu, Minnesota, c.1900.

American Indian boarding schools, which operated in Minnesota and across the United States beginning in the late nineteenth century, represent a dark chapter in U.S. history. Also called industrial schools, these institutions prepared boys for manual labor and farming and girls or domestic work. The boarding school, whether on or off a reservation, carried out the government’s mission to restructure Indians’ minds and personalities by severing children’s physical, cultural, and spiritual connections to their tribes.

On March 3, 1891, Congress authorized the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to create legal rules that required Indian children to attend boarding schools. It also authorized the Indian Office to with hold rations, clothing, and other annuities from Indian parents or guardians who would not send and keep their children in school. Indian Agents forcibly abducted children as young as four from their homes and enrolled them in Christian- and government-run boarding schools beginning in the mid-1800s and continuing into the 1970s.

Captain Richard H. Pratt’s boarding school experiment began in the late nineteenth century. A staunch nineteenth-century assimilationist, Pratt advocated a position that diverged slightly from the white majority’s.Convinced of the U.S. government’s duty to “Americanize” Indians, he offered a variation of the slogan – popular in the American West – that stated the only good Indian was a dead one.The proper goal, Pratt claimed, was to“kill the Indian…and save the man.” Pratt founded a school in 1879 at the