Recently, the bodies of Indigenous children were discovered lying in unmarked graves at former Residential School sites in Canada. This tragic discovery begs multiple questions: Why did this happen? What exactly happened to Indigenous youth at the hundreds of similar residential schools in the United States? Why isn't this history taught in most U.S. school history classrooms? What does this mean for Indigenous people today?
TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices. Click to see this video and lesson plan on KQED Learn.
What Are Residential Schools?
Boarding schools (also referred to as Residential schools, and more recently, assimilation camps) were institutions run by the federal government and churches within Canada and the United States with the intention of absorbing Indigenous peoples into dominant Western culture, by displacing them from their culture. Between the late 1800s through the late 1970s, most prominently, Indigenous children were forcibly and violently removed from their families to attend these Residential Schools, with some Native families even being coerced by the federal government and the Catholic Church into reluctantly handing their children over. During this time there were over 350 schools operating within the United States. By 1920, there were 20,000 children attending the schools, with the number tripling by just 1925.
How Was Assimilation Carried Out?
Although survivors of this deeply unsettling history report varied experiences, the shared attitude toward Residential Schools is one of mostly unanimous disgust and bone-chilling fear.