Albuquerque Indian School
Early class of younger girls in school uniform at the Albuquerque Indian School, circa 1900. Photo: National Archives
Notes from Indian Country
The dark legacy of the boarding schools
Tuesday, September 21, 2021

As the years go by the number of boarding school survivors dwindles and most of us still alive with our memories are in our eighties and it won’t be long before there will be none of us left to tell our stories.

But I have seen on Facebook and have received letters prior to that from members of the generation following the boarding school experiment who say that they know their mother or dad or their grandparents went to the boarding schools but they never talk about it. I didn’t want the memories of those days die so I wrote a small book about it.

The book was published in the 1970s by the Indian Historian Press and edited by Rupert Costo, himself a survivor of a Californian boarding school. It was called “The Aboriginal Sin” and came out in about 1975.

It was republished in 1997 by Clear Light Publishing of Santa Fe, New Mexico and renamed “Children Left Behind.” In the foreword I wrote, “This book is intended to bring back the memories of the boarding schools to those who have survived them. It is also intended to cause those memories, good and bad, to bring about a process of healing that has long been denied. But more than that, it is written to bring out the truth that has been hidden for too many years.”

The new book was expanded and contains many of the columns I have written over the years after visiting with other boarding school survivors and sharing our memories. It is available at Amazon.com.

I am not trying to promote the book here because any profits from the book go to different Native American charities. But I mention the book here because it is one of the few that revives the dark legacy of the Indian mission boarding schools. And I encourage the younger generation to read it so they will know what their parents and grandparents experienced at the hands of those who tried to destroy their language and culture. Perhaps it will give you a better understanding of the boarding school experience that shaped most of their adult lives.

It is also the legacy of those who survived the boarding schools that shaped the future of Indian Country and brought us to the point where we now find ourselves.

My daughter Denise Giago, a gifted artist, illustrated the book and said that reading about my experiences at the boarding and of my treatment by the nuns and priests helped her to understand me a lot more. Many Lakota elders who attended boarding schools have told me that my book was cathartic to them and helped them to heal.

I started to write the book when I was 17 years old and was aboard a troop ship headed for Korea in 1952. Years later I sent the packet of poems to Costo at the Indian Historian Press and as a boarding school survivor himself, he knew that it had to be published so that the generations following us would learn about that part of their history.

The boarding schools had a dramatic impact upon the lives of thousands of Native children. Some for the good and some for the bad. To this day there are those who never forgave or forgot. Many went about relearning their own history that was stolen from them at the boarding schools.

And so as my generation of survivors fades away, it will be up to others to keep the dark memories of the BIA and Indian mission boarding schools alive.


Contact Tim Giago at najounalist1@gmail.com