Boys from the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Rosebud Sioux Tribe are said to be the "first party to arrive" at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in October 1876. Image: Richard Henry Pratt papers at the Yale University

Ivan Star Comes Out: We need to give our children a real 'Indian' education

They call it ‘Indian education,’ but is it really?
By Ivan Star Comes Out
Native Sun News Today Columnist

There are many things in this world that should be discussed not just in elite circles but in the general public.

For instance, Native high school graduates ought to know that the word “education” literally masks the horrid reality of the boarding school era which their ancestors endured. This includes the systematic obliteration of their Native heritage for the purpose of absorption into today’s society.

Needless to say, Indian children were torn away from their parents and the family unit was shrewdly destroyed. In other words, every conceivable effort was made by the federal government to destroy their cultural heritage and identity. Our youth today should be aware that the government’s cultural integration process nearly succeeded as we are struggling to retrieve our language and culture today.

Our ancestors understood that “educating” their children with western academics would give them a chance to “succeed” in both worlds. The idea that education is crucial to our posterity is still active as we enter the 21st century. However, basic awareness of the beginnings of “Indian Education,” including the boarding schools, is absent among the younger Indian populace.

Ivan F. Star Comes Out. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

That coerced integration effort our ancestors endured seems to have been successful. Many believe we are losing our language because it is old and outdated. The obliteration process of their ancient culture is not clearly understood. The majority of our youth today speak English only and their lack of cultural knowledge is apparent and our youth are totally into modern technology and not much of anything else.

Modern educators play a pivotal role in making critically constructive changes to reverse this persistent “education” process. However, our Native educators appear to have acclimatized to the popular American educational norm. Much has been written in recent times about “Indian education” but many appear disinterested.

I see educators committedly but blindly looking to the future while ignoring that critical cultural foundation. A Horace Mann quote, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity” has stuck with me since I became aware of it. Although I am not in a position to win anything for humankind, I encourage others to work at it.

Although the primary delivery methods of this “Indian education” have changed, integration of Natives into the dominant society is still at work. How close are we to that reality where there would be no more culturally recognizable people? We moved from nearly everyone speaking Lakota to a few older speakers and an ineffective decades-old language transmission effort via books and recordings.

It is clear now that the traumatic assimilation that occurred in those missionary and government boarding schools was damaging and enervating. This trauma remained unresolved and was transmitted down through the ages thus affecting millions of natives today. Such information should be as common as George Washington, Paul Revere, Moses, and Jesus.

Sadly, the “education” of Native Americans received less public attention than that of other Americans because Natives were considered an impediment to westward expansion (Manifest Destiny). They were also far from major population centers and their dealings were largely with the federal government (Freeman Butts, 1973).


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Ivan F. Star Comes Out can be reached at P.O. Box 147, Oglala, South Dakota, 57764; via phone at 605-867-2448 or via email at

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