Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

By Brenda J. Child | Go to book overview

6
Working for the School

American Indian parents who sent their sons and daughters to residential schools had high expectations for the education their children would receive in exchange for years of absence from home and family. From their inception, boarding schools were promoted by Indian agents and other officials on reservations, who pressured skeptical parents to send their children to schools like Flandreau, Haskell, and Pipestone. School newspapers and monthly newsletters aided the process by telling convincing stories about the prosperity and success of those who learned trades and graduated from Carlisle or Haskell, two of the most popular schools in the system. Parents were reluctant to send their children away for schooling, but many became convinced of the necessity for formal training and familiarity with a trade, especially as Indian communities failed to prosper under the policies of the allotment era.

Clearly, Indian people came to hold their own ideas about the meaning and worth of a government boarding school education. Their expectations were wide-ranging, but they had in common a desire to see that their son or daughter practiced a vocation. In this regard, the letters sent to government boarding schools from parents expressed similar sentiments. In a typical letter received at Flandreau, Mrs. Mary Necklace asked to enroll her fourteen-yearold Elmer "so he will learn Industrial Training." Similarly, Mrs. Ellen Ninham of Gresham, Wisconsin, felt that her son Killman "will get along in this world easy if he would only learn some kind of trade." Students, too, felt the need for formal training and had their own concerns about future employment. "I want you to give me back my trade of Harness making," wrote Napolean Duchineaux to Flandreau's superintendent in 1913. Napolean, a continuing student at Flandreau, also requested that a place be reserved for him at school that September. 1

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