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New map expands knowledge of Native American boarding schools

Stewart Indian School students are seen in a classroom in Carson, Nev., in an undated photo. The state of Nevada plans to fully cooperate with federal efforts to investigate the history of Native American boarding schools.
Courtesy of Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum via AP
Stewart Indian School students are seen in a classroom in Carson, Nev., in an undated photo.

News brief: 

A nonprofit has released a new interactive map that sheds more light on the history of boarding schools that traumatized Indigenous children in the U.S. and Canada for decades.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition’s list stands at 523 institutions – 115 more than the most recent count by the U.S. Interior Department.

These schools were run by federal governments or churches with the goal of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children into white culture. The students’ hair was cut, and they were often punished for speaking their language or practicing their customs.

Samuel Torres, deputy CEO for the coalition, said many of the newly identified institutions were Christian missionaries without federal support. However, the goal within every school was always “Indigenous erasure.”

“You see how deep the impact of colonialism has been through this slice of boarding schools as a policy. As not just a federal priority, but as a social as a cultural phenomenon that allowed for westward expansion to happen the way that it did,” Torres said.

The map shows the location of each boarding school in the West.
Courtesy of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.
The map shows the location of each boarding school in the West.

More than 150 institutions were located in the Mountain West, with many in the Four Corners region. Torres said the map will be expanded this fall to include more archival data and research about the schools.

Torres hopes survivors of the boarding school era and their relatives can use this map to find more information about their family’s past. He also hopes to see this history gain more exposure in mainstream teaching and media, and supports accountability and healing efforts from federal governments.

“We can't heal from that which we cannot name,” he said. “And if we don't understand the scope and the extent of this moment and these generations of American history, then not only will we continue to make those same mistakes, but we will continue to look the other way from those communities and nations that have been so deeply inflicted a trauma that continues to be passed down intergenerationally.”

U.S. senators have introduced a bill to establish a truth and healing commission for Native American boarding schools, though it hasn’t passed either chamber in Congress.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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