Erin Grace: Reservation boarding school promotes tribal culture

Students at the Flandreau Indian School graduation in May. Photo from Facebook

Columnist Erin Grace profiles Flandreau Indian School, a Bureau of Indian Education boarding school on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, for The Omaha World-Herald:
The existence of a boarding school for Native Americans may seem anachronistic in the 21st century. Such schools were begun in the late 1800s as a way to force tribes to assimilate into white American culture. Enrollment peaked in the early 1970s, with 60,000 students reportedly enrolled in Indian boarding schools. Many closed after a 1975 law gave tribes more autonomy.

But the U.S. government is still in the Indian boarding school business. It is under treaty obligation to provide education. The federal Bureau of Indian Education, an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior, funds and oversees 183 day and boarding schools in 23 states, plus two postsecondary schools. Most of the schools are now run by tribes. The bureau directly manages four off-reservation boarding high schools, including Flandreau.

The boarding schools still serve a purpose. They are a haven for students from troubled homes and schools, an alternative to schools at remote reservations. They also are seen as a familiar connection to relatives who attended in recent years and had good experiences.

“It’s ironic now that the past history of these boarding schools has been one of trying to scrub the Indian white,” said Monty Roessel, director of the Bureau of Indian Education. “Now they are a place where (students) can come and celebrate who they are. They reflect the cultures of the students and the cultures of the tribes they represent.”

Get the Story:
Erin Grace: Among the last of its kind, Flandreau Indian School catches second wind (The Omaha World-Herald 9/20)

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