The federal government began using boarding schools to assimilate natives into mainstream American society in the late 1800s. It was believed to be important for natives to become “civilized” and adopt the mainstream American way of life. Most boarding schools were run by either the Catholic or Protestant church and prioritized converting natives to Christianity.
The government would frequently steal native children from their families on reservations and send them hundreds of miles away to boarding schools. Whether true or not, it was often claimed that these children were unwanted, or their parents were unfit to care for them.
At these schools, native children were forced to give up their languages, traditions, religion, and practices and were forced to perform child labor. They also faced horrific psychological, physical, and sexual abuse often from priests and nuns. Native children died in large numbers from starvation, disease, neglect, abuse, or murder.
There are several native boarding schools still open today.