Huchoosedah and the Indian Boarding Schools

The people of Puget Sound country have a word for cultural and self knowledge—Huchoosedah—and it is this inward cultural fortitude that has helped them endure the colonial challenges that indigenous people round the world have had thrust upon them. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Native people were forced into a system of government-run schools, whose mission was nothing short of cultural genocide. Federal policy called for the removal of children from their families to attend these schools, in which the belief was that keeping the children away from the languages and customs of their families was the best way for them to assimilate into the dominant White society. Different from the missionary schools that had been established in the mid-19th century, the legal rationale for many of these residential schools in the Pacific Northwest springs from language in treaties that called for free agricultural and industrial education for Native people.

          The rules at the schools were quite clear on the use of English. In 1868, a federal commission on making peace with the Indians concluded: “In the difference of language today lies two-thirds of our trouble…Schools should be established, which children should be required to attend; their barbarous dialects should be blotted out and the English language substituted” (Atkins 1887). Under these strict English-only rules, students were punished and humiliated for speaking their native languages as part of a general campaign to wipe out every vestige of their Indianness. A Bureau of Indian Affairs teacher in the early 1900s explained that the schools “went on the assumption that any Indian custom was, per se, objectionable, whereas the customs of whites were the ways of civilization….[Children] were taught to despise every custom of their forefathers, including religion, language, songs, dress, ideas, methods of living” (Kneale, quoted in Reyhner 1992, p. 45)

Canadian and US Response to Residential Schools

  • Canada has set up a 1.9 billion dollar compensation package, called the Common Experience Payments, for those forced to attend schools.

  • In the 1990s the Anglican Church of Canada, leaders of the Presbyterian Church, and the United Church of Canada all apologized for abuse at the schools. 

  • In 2008 Prime Minister Steven Harper formally apologized to residential school students. In 2009 Pope Benedict expressed "sorrow" for the "deplorable" treatment of students at schools run by the Roman Catholic Church.

  • A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to document and produce a report about the impact of residential schools.

For more information—A History of Residential Schools in Canada (CBC)

The United States Department of Interior initiated a study of the conditions of American Indians and the impact of Federal policies. Released in 1928, the Merriam Report recommended...

  • Abolish The Uniform Course of Study, which taught only European-American cultural values;

  • Educate younger children at community schools near home, and have older children attend non-reservation schools for higher grade work

  • Have the Indian Service (now Bureau of Indian Affairs) provide American Indians the education and skills the need to adapt both in their own communities and United States society

The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 recommended that Native children should be educated in community schools, not boarding schools.

What do you think accounts for the dramatically different responses to the plight of Native children raised in residential schools in Canada and the United States?