- History & Culture
A century of trauma at U.S. boarding schools for Native American children
Federally funded schools used abusive tactics to strip children of their culture and inspired a similar program in Canada. A new initiative aims to reckon with that past.
Zitkála-Šá was eight years old when the missionaries came. Lured from the South Dakota Yankton Indian Reservation with promises of adventure, comfort, and an education, in 1884 the girl went willingly to Wabash, Indiana, to attend a Quaker-run boarding school dedicated to training Native American children.
Then she realized the teachers who had taken her traditional clothing upon her arrival wanted to cut her hair, too. Proud of her long black hair and raised to associate short cuts with the shame of captured warriors, Zitkála-Šá snuck away from the other children. But the adults found her hiding place. They dragged the kicking child into another room and tied her to a chair.
“I cried aloud, shaking my head all the while until