Colonial Instillations in American Indian Boarding School Students

Article excerpt

There is a general knowledge about the United States governments' deliberate attempts to destroy American Indian cultures. Our history books tell of American Indian students being locked in week long routines to keep them out of mischief, underfed to break down resistance and being given deadening rounds of simple, repetitious chores bereft of challenges to numb their intelligence, and taught dominant western values and language (Brave Heart & De Bruyn (1998). Possibly, too few people are aware that assimilation of American Indians continues in our country today in multitudinous forms, including Indian boarding school residential environments. The assimilation of American Indians entails the replacement of tribal sets of beliefs and actions directly linked to the beliefs of distinct tribal groups with Western sets of beliefs and actions (Brayboy, 2005).

Currently there are 72 Indian boarding schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, serving over 10,000 students in the United States (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2003). The few educational and psychological articles suggest that many Indian boarding schools have and do engage in assimilating students into mainstream culture at the expense of tribal values. In a national survey by Robinson-Zanatir and Majel-Dixon (1996), 234 American Indian parents representing fifty-five tribes reported that they felt that tribal schools valued Indian children more than Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding schools and public schools in the areas of: respect, expectations of achievement, and degree to which Indian culture is valued. In narrative comments, participants stressed that boarding schools have not tried to understand Indian communities, culture or learning styles. Lacroix (1994) reported that American Indian girls attending Indian boarding schools related that they suffer from loss of cultural identity and experience their schools as "imposed" systems. Noted historian Joel Spring (2001) decries Anglo-American racism in Indian boarding schools which insidiously replaces tribal cultures with dominant culture. He sites religious intolerance as being particularly prevalent in Indian boarding schools.

There is anecdotal support suggesting that American Indian boarding school attendance may be associated with psychological dysfunction among some students. Counseling American Indian clients in British Colombia, Charles Brasfield (2001) identified a common symptomology among survivors of Indian residential schools, which he calls "residential school syndrome." The effects include: distressing recollections, recurrent distressing dreams of residential school, a sense of reliving the residential experiences, distress at exposure to cues that resemble residential experiences, avoidance of stimuli associated with residential experience, inability to recall important aspects of residential experience, diminished interest in participating in tribal activities, restrictive range of affect, feelings of detachment, increased arousal particularly when intoxicated, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and exaggerated startle response. Symptoms may include deficient knowledge of tribal culture, deficient parenting skills and a tendency to abuse alcohol and drugs.

This study attempts to take into account the interplay of inner psychic conflicts of American Indian boarding school students in Indian boarding school environments; interactions between aspects of the school environment; the broader environment, such as the government and /or the media; and cultural and political beliefs complex process of assimilation that occurs in Indian boarding school residential settings (Bronfenbrenner's ecological model, 1979). There are several elements in this study that mark it as unique. (1) It focuses on boarding school residential practices rather than academic educational practices. (2) It also accepts the risk of attempting to analyze inter-psychic conflicts in the context of cultural, political and social contexts. …