Indian Boarding Schools: America’s Best Kept Secret

The discovery of the bodies of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at Canadian boarding schools for Indigenous children has many people looking for more information about similar sites in the United States.

Chioma Uwagwu reports:


In May the bodies of 215 children were discovered at a former indigenous boarding school site in Canada. Soon after hundreds more were found at a second school. The news has many people looking for more information about similar sites in the United States.


Dr. Denise Lajimodiere is a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe located in North Dakota and a retired professor. She was in Canada a few years ago when an Indigenous judge asked her how many boarding schools were in the U.S.; she was shocked to realize she couldn’t answer the question. 


“And since then I have found out that nobody has ever asked the government or the Bureau of Indian Affairs or all of the Christian churches how many boarding schools they ran,” she said. 


Lajimodiere is now the author of the most comprehensive list of American Indian Boarding Schools in the US – so far she’s identified 407 of them. She says the boarding school era has been America’s best kept secret and is only now gaining national attention. 


Both of Lajimodiere’s parents were sent to boarding schools. 


“They put lice soap in the kids’ mouths. They put pins through their tongues for not speaking English,” she said, recalling stories from her father. ‘In other places they put rubber bands around their tongues. I mean the kids were literally tortured.”


Lajimodiere says native people must be consulted before any action is taken on sites in the U.S. – and detailed information must be gathered along the way. 


“We need to support the survivors, we need to locate the remains, and we need to bring them home,” she said. “We need to find healing places, whatever that looks like for each community.There’s just still so much grief across the country and the big question is, how do we handle that grief, how do we heal from that grief and from that trauma.


Dr. Lajimodere’s book “Stringing Rosaries”, a study in boarding school history and cultural genocide is being republished for the third time. It includes an updated list of boarding schools  and discusses the power of healing for survivors.



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