E/C. 19/2009/crp. 1 26 January 2009 English Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Eighth session

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E/C.19/2009/CRP. 1

26 January 2009


Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Eighth session

New York, 18 - 29 May 2009

Indigenous Peoples and Boarding Schools:
A Comparative Study

Prepared by Andrea Smith

for the Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
At its sixth session, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues recommended that an expert undertake a comparative study on the subject of boarding schools.1 This report provides a preliminary analysis of boarding school policies directed at indigenous peoples globally. Because of the diversity of indigenous peoples and the nation-states in which they are situated, it is impossible to address all the myriad boarding school policies both historically and contemporary. Boarding schools have had varying impacts for indigenous peoples. Consequently, the demands made by indigenous peoples around boarding school education also differ widely. At the same time, however, there are some common themes that emerge among diverse boarding school practices.
II. Historical Overview of Boarding Schools
A. What was their purpose?
Indigenous peoples generally argue that the historic purpose of boarding schools was to assimilate indigenous peoples into the dominant society of which they lived. These schools were frequently administered in cooperation with Christian missions with the expressed purpose of Christianizing indigenous peoples, particularly in Latin America, North America, the Arctic, and the Pacific. However, there are also variations of assimilation policies. In the United States of America (USA) and Canada, Native children en masse were forcibly removed from their homes as a way to address the “Indian” problem. The policy was “save the man; kill the Indian.”2 In other words, for Native peoples to become fully “human,” they would have to lose their Native cultures. In New Zealand and Australia, some schools often targeted those of mixed ancestry as a way to develop an elite class within indigenous communities that could manage their own communities.3 In the former USSR and China, the assimilationist policies became stronger during the 20th Century as a means to address national stability and anxieties.4 In Africa, boarding schools, generally patterned on colonial models of education, were often extremely under-resourced and under-utilized by indigenous peoples.5 In the Middle East, boarding schools actually targeted the elites of indigenous communities, such as the Bedouin during the British Mandate and the Al Murrah in Saudi Arabia, in order to give them the skills to negotiate with colonial powers.6
Often a stated rationale for boarding schools was that they provided a means for indigenous peoples to achieve status in the dominant society.7 As will be discussed in the next section, for this reason, many indigenous peoples support boarding schools. At the same time, however, the focus on industrial boarding schools in many areas signified that indigenous children were often not given the educational skills necessary to assimilate into the higher eschelons of the larger society. Rather, they were trained to do either domestic work or manual labor.
B. In what countries were they located?
Below are some country and regional profiles of indigenous boarding school policies.
United States

During the 19th century and into the 20th century, American Indian children were forcibly abducted from their homes to attend Christian and USA government-run boarding schools as state policy. The boarding school system became more formalized under Grants’ Peace Policy of 1869-1870, which turned over the administration of Indian reservations to Christian denominations. As part of this policy, Congress set aside funds to erect school facilities to be administered by churches and missionary societies.8 These facilities were a combination of day and boarding schools erected on Indian reservations.

In 1879, the first off-reservation boarding school, Carlisle, was founded by Richard Pratt. He argued that as long as boarding schools were primarily situated on reservations, then: 1) it was too easy for children to run away from school; and 2) the efforts to assimilate Native children into boarding schools would be reversed when children went back home to their families during the summer. He proposed a system where children would be taken far from their homes at an early age and not returned to their homes until they were young adults. By 1909, there were over 25 off-reservation boarding schools, 157 on-reservation boarding schools, and 307 day schools in operation.9 Thousands of Native children were forced into attending these schools.
Interestingly, Richard Pratt was actually one of the “friends of the Indians.” That is, USA colonists, in their attempt to end Native control over their land bases, generally came up with two policies to address the “Indian problem.” Some sectors advocated outright physical extermination of Native peoples, while the “friends” of the Indians, such as Pratt, advocated cultural rather than physical genocide. Carl Schurz, a former Commissioner of Indian Affairs, concluded that Native peoples had “this stern alternative: extermination or civilization.”10 Henry Pancoast, a Philadelphia lawyer, advocated a similar policy in 1882. He stated “We must either butcher them or civilize them, and what we do we must do quickly.”11
Thus, when Pratt founded off-reservation boarding schools, his rationale was “Kill the Indian in order to save the Man.” He also stated “Transfer the savage-born infant to the surroundings of civilization, and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit.”12 He modeled Carlisle on a school he developed in Ft. Marion Prison which held 72 Native prisoners of war. The strategy was to separate children from their parents, inculcate Christianity and white cultural values upon them, and encourage or force them to assimilate into the dominant society. However, the education that was provided was not designed to allow Native peoples to really assimilate into the dominant society. Rather, the training prepared Native children to be assimilated into the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. For the most part, schools primarily prepared Native boys for manual labor or farming and Native girls for domestic work. Children were also involuntarily leased out to white homes as menial labor during the summers rather than sent back to their homes. Indian girls learned skills such as ironing, sewing, washing, serving raw oysters at cocktail parties, and making attractive flower arrangements in order to transform them into middle-class housewives.13 Thus, the primary role of education for Native girls was to inculcate patriarchal norms and desires into previously non-patriarchal Native communities so that women would lose their traditional places of leadership in Native communities.
The rationale for choosing cultural rather than physical genocide was often economic. Carl Schurz concluded that it would cost a million dollars to kill an Indian in warfare, whereas it cost only $1,200 to school an Indian child for eight years. Likewise, the Secretary of the Interior, Henry Teller, argued that it would cost $22 million to wage war against Indians over a ten-year period, but would cost less than a quarter of that amount to educate 30,000 children for a year.14 Consequently, these schools were administered as inexpensively as possible. Children were given inadequate food and medical care, and conditions were overcrowded in these schools. According to the Boarding School Healing Project (BSHP) Native children in South Dakota schools were often fed only one sandwich for a whole day. As a result, children routinely died in mass numbers of starvation and disease. Other children died from common medical ailments because of medical neglect.15 In addition, children were often forced to do grueling work in order to raise monies for the schools and salaries for the teachers and administrators. Some Boarding School survivors have reported children being killed because they were forced to operate dangerous machinery. Children were never compensated for their labor.
Attendance at these boarding schools was mandatory, and children were forcibly taken from their homes for the majority of the year. They were forced to worship as Christians and speak English (native traditions and languages were prohibited).16 As a result, some Native survivors have reported that they never spoke their indigenous language again after attending school.17 Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse was rampant. Children were often forced to beat other children. A common punishment was that children were frequently sent through whipping lines to be beaten by the older children in the school.18
Many survivors report being sexually abused by multiple perpetrators in these schools. However, boarding school officials refused to investigate, even when teachers were publicly accused by their students. In 1987, the FBI found that one teacher at the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) who administered a Hopi day school in Arizona, had sexually abused over 142 boys, but the school’s principal had never investigated any allegations of abuse. Another instructor taught at a BIA school on the Navajo Reservation before twelve children came forward with allegations of molestation. A North Carolina BIA school instructor was employed between the years of 1971-1985 before he was arrested for assaulting boys. In all cases, the BIA supervisors ignored complaints from the parents before the arrests of these teachers. In one case, a boarding school teacher admitted on his job application that he has been arrested for child sexual abuse. He was hired anyway at the Kaibito Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation, and was later convicted of sexual abuse against Navajo students. There are reports that child molestation is currently a major problem in Indian boarding schools, but there has been little effort by the federal government to implement policies to address this problem.19 There are reports that both male and female school personnel routinely abused Native children, sometimes leading to suicides among these children.20
Thousands of children have died in these schools, through beatings, medical neglect, and malnutrition. The cemetery at Haskell Indian School alone has 102 student graves, and at least 500 students died and were buried elsewhere. The practice of schools when children died at school was that their dead bodies were simply dumped on the floors of their families homes. In one boarding school, the skeletal remains of babies were discovered in the walls after the school was torn down.21

Full scale efforts to ‘civilize’ aboriginal peoples did not begin until British hegemony was established in 1812 because military alliances were often needed by competing European powers. In 1846, the government resolved at a meeting in Orilla, Ontario, to fully commit to Indian residential schools. The state and the churches collaborated in the efforts to ‘civilize’ Indians in order to solve the Indian problem. The major denominations began carving the country among themselves. In 1889, the Indian Affairs Department was created and Indian agents were dispatched to aboriginal communities. These agents would threaten to withhold money from aboriginal parents if they did not send their children to school. Parents were even imprisoned if they resisted schooling their children. Indian agents prepared lists of children to be taken from reserves and organized fall round ups (at the commencement of the school year).22

In 1879, Nicholas Flood Davin, a Regina Member of Parliament, sent a report to the federal government, advocating that Canada adopt a similar system to that of the United States of America established by Richard Pratt. Day schools were seen to be inadequate for ‘civilizing’ aboriginal peoples. As in the USA, residential schools focused on industrial education rather than academics, including agriculture and trades for boys and domestic training for girls. These schools were to be set up far away from their communities so that children would not be influenced by the cultures of their communities. By 1896, the Canadian government had funded forty-five church-run residential schools.23
In schools, Christian religion was mandatory. No expressions of aboriginal culture were allowed. Sanitary and physical conditions were poor, leading to a high disease rates.24 Overcrowding lead to tuberculosis (TB) outbreaks. In File Hills Industrial school in Saskatchewan, 69 percent of students died of TB in one decade at the turn of the century. A medical inspector carried out an investigation and warned of outbreaks, but his report was largely ignored. The response by Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs was “If the schools are to be conducted at all, we must face the fact that a large number of the pupils will suffer from tuberculosis on some of its various forms.”25 At Upker Island, the Indian Affairs’ own files estimated that 40 percent of children died before they returned home.
Children were also physically and sexually abused. In 1990, the Special Advisor to the Minister of National Health and Welfare on Child Sexual Abuse stated that in some schools, 100 percent of children were sexually abused.26 They were forced into hard labor and frequently whipped and beaten if they spoke aboriginal languages or expressed aboriginal cultural identity.27 In 1907, the Montreal Star and Saturday Night newspapers reported that a medical inspection of schools found a death rate of 24 percent among children in schools, and 42 percent included children who had died after being sent home when they became critically ill.28
In 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Affairs issued a report documenting abuses in residential schools. “Children were frequently beaten severely with whips, rods and fists, chained and shackled, bound hand and foot and locked in closets, basements, and bathrooms, and had their heads shaved or hair closely cropped.” It further reported that children had their faces rubbed in excrement and urine. The typical punishment for children who ran away from school was to run a gauntlet where they were beaten severely.29
Because so little time was spent on academic preparation, the schools were not successful. According to the Indian Affairs own statistics, by 1938, 75 percent of aboriginal children were below grade three level, and only 3 in a 100 made it past grade six level. By comparison to other schools, half of the children in school were past grade three level, and one third were past grade six level.30 By 1986, nearly half of all aboriginal peoples on reserve had less than a grade nine education, and less than one quarter had obtained a high school diploma. Educational achievement is increasing for aboriginal peoples, but it is still substantially lower than the general population.31
Residential schooling reached its peak in 1931 with over eighty schools in Canada. From the mid-1800s to the 1970s, about one third of aboriginal children were confined to schools for the majority of their childhoods. The last school closed in 1984.
One of the first cases of residential abuse was filed by 24 men against their school supervisor, the United Church of Canada, the federal government, and the former principals of the Alberni Indian Residential school. The supervisor was also criminally charged with 16 counts of sexual abuse between 1948-1968. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Before the sentence, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hogarth described the residential school system as “nothing more than institutionalized pedophilia.”32 When this abuse become public, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police started a taskforce to investigate allegations of abuse in residential schools. By 2000, they had received 3, 400 complaints against 170 suspects. Only five people were charged. By 2001, 16,000 aboriginal peoples (17 percent of living residential school alumni) had brought legal claim against the churches or government Still very few perpetrators actually received criminal convictions.
In 1991, the Indian Affairs minister refused demands for an aboriginal inquiry into residential schools. He said there would be no apologies, no compensation, no admission of government liability, and he said he would shelve any recommendations from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples which was conducting a report that included residential schools. Instead, rather than focus on government accountability, the government strategy would focus on community healing from abuse. This focus was criticized by many as an attempt to allow the government to escape accountability by framing the issue as one where indigenous peoples were “sick” and needed healing.33
By 1992, most churches began issuing apologies for their complicity in residential school abuses, but also demanded that the Canadian government also take responsibility for its role as well. Soon, the level of lawsuits filed against churches threatened some churches with bankruptcy. In 1995, the federal government began to quietly pay out of court settlements to 50 former students in government-run schools without formal acknowledgment of an apology. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1996 report which included five years of research, including research of over 60,000 school files, concluded that there should be public hearings across the country, and that remedies should include compensation to enable communities to heal.
In 1997, a May inquiry into abuse in Alkali Lake and the suicide of one activist, helped prompt more federal intervention. Finally, in 1998, the government set aside $350 million to support community-based healing initiatives to be administered through the independent Aboriginal Healing Foundation.34
Central and South America and Caribbean

Boarding school patterns, given the diverse countries involved, were much less uniform than in the United States in Canada. Generally, in Latin America, it appears that most boarding schools were set up by Christian missions as part of a ‘civilization’ process. In the Southeastern Peruvian Amazon, schooling was monolingual and monocultural in the Spanish language. The Arakmbut peoples in the 1950s were forced to live by Catholic missions after having been decimated by disease. During the Rubber industry boom period, the Dominican missionaries became particularly involved in trying to pacify them through education. The Arakmbut peoples were obliged to attend mission schools far away from their parents, and forced to learn Spanish.35

Mexico’s education policy in the 1800s and early 1900s focused on assimilation of indigenous peoples and teaching them to speak Spanish. However, some reformers advocated for bilingual education as a means to more effectively assimilate indigenous peoples. In the 1970s, calls for resistance to assimilation began to emerge, but Mexico’s education policy was still slanted towards assimilation. In Mexico’s rural community of Kuchmil in the Yucatán region, the government set up internados, or boarding schools, that would teach children Spanish as well as provide food, clothing and shelter during the 1960s. Indigenous peoples were attracted to the system because they desired schools that would prepare their children for wage employment and teach them the skills necessary to negotiate state and local bureaucracies. Meanwhile, local schools were plagued with teacher absenteeism. In this area, boys rather than girls were primarily sent to the schools, since they were seen as the ones who would eventually become the primary wage earner. The result, however, was that the boys started to migrate to cities rather than return to their communities after being away at school for so long. Later, the construction of a local secondary school and college in 1997 made it possible for young people to say at home and receive an education.36
In Venezuela, religious orders would sign contracts with governments to sanction missionary activity. The Capuchin order, for instance, was given educational, political, and civil authority over territories in their contracts. From the 1920s - 1970s, they set up boarding schools and day schools for the Warao peoples. In the 1970s, however, administration of schools was turned over to government authorities. Missionaries often spoke Warao, but would address students only in Spanish. Today, schools are being built in the communities, but it is difficult for many to attend who live in outlying areas that are reachable only through watercraft. Spanish language was strictly enforced in schools among the Guarani in Paraguay beginning in 1812. Each time a student was caught speaking Guarani, she or he received five lashes.37
Until the 1970s, Colombia funded nine different Catholic orders to educate indigenous groups. These Catholic groups set up missions where they separated children from their families from the age of five. The Capuchin order was very prevalent in Colombia as well. Children were not allowed to speak their native languages, visit their families, or wear their traditional clothing. In some regions, the missions gave money and land to those who married outside their group. In the 1970s, the State finally recognized the need for culturally specific education and began hiring and training indigenous teachers.38
In Brazil, the Jesuits opened up a mission post among the Manoki peoples in 1949, and relocated the children to Utiariti. Others followed to escape the devastation wrought by massacres and disease. The Manoki peoples were divided into groups based on age and gender, and supervised by a priest or a nun in all activities. They were prohibited from speaking their own languages and were encouraged to intermarry. Everyone had to work in the mission and engage in business operations that profited the mission. The Manoki peoples stayed in Utiariti until the school was dismantled in 1968.39

Since the beginning of European settlement in Australia, indigenous children were removed from homes as a source of cheap labor. Governments and missionaries also targeted indigenous children for removal from their families in order to “inculcate European values and work habits in children, who would then be employed in service to the colonial settlers.”40

The government response to the brutal treatment of indigenous peoples by settlers was to reserve land for the exclusive use of indigenous peoples and assign responsibility for their welfare to a Chief Protector or Protection Board. By 1911 the Northern Territory and every State of Australia except Tasmania, had “protectionist legislation” giving the Chief Protector or Protection Board extensive power to control indigenous peoples. Missionaries often collaborated with the management of indigenous communities. As part of the ‘civilization project’, children were separated from their families in a number of ways to encourage them to become Christians. On reserves, children were housed in dormitories and contact with their families strictly limited. In some areas, children were placed in training institutes. In other areas, they were placed in non-indigenous homes. In Queensland and Western Australia, the Chief Protector forced all indigenous peoples onto government settlements and missions. In addition, children were removed from their mothers at the age of four years and placed in dormitories away from their families. They were then sent off the missions and settlements at 14 years of age to work.41 Until the 1950s, it was common to exclude indigenous children from state schools. In 1902, New South Wales formally excluded children as part of state policy.42
The government also targeted indigenous children of mixed-descent specifically for removal. The rationale was that indigenous children with lighter skin color could be more easily assimilated into non-indigenous society. Meanwhile, “full-blood” Aboriginal people were thought to be a dying race. In 1937, administrators of indigenous policy in all states except Tasmania met in Canberra (the capital) to discuss how indigenous peoples could be “absorbed” into mainstream society. According to A.O. Neville, administrator from Western Australia:

“That this conference believes that the destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of the full-blood, lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth and it therefore recommends that all efforts be directed to that end. Are we going to have a population of 1,000,000 blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there ever were any aborigines in Australia?”43

In New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory many children of mixed descent were totally separated from their families when young and placed in segregated ‘training’ institutions before being sent out to work. Between 1910-1970, between 1 in 3 to 1 in 10 indigenous children were removed from their families. By the mid 1930s, more than half of the so called “half-caste” children in the Northern Territory were housed in institutions administered by the state.44
Christian churches were at the forefront of this practice. In the late 1940s, some 50 missions operated throughout Australia. Similar patterns emerged: education focused on Christianization and manual labor rather than preparation for higher education. Abuse was prevalent, and schools were poorly maintained.45 Conditions were deplorable in these missions and settlements with death rates often exceeding birthrates. Disease, malnutrition and sexual violence were commonplace. Children were often forced to work in white homes where they were routinely sexually abused. In Victoria, between 1881-1925, one third of indigenous children died.46 These systems continued into the 1970s.
The quality of education was poor. As in the USA and Canada, education focused on training boys for menial labor and girls for domestic work. Academic training did not exceed that provided for ten year olds in non-indigenous schools.
In the 1970s, an era of reform began in indigenous education that stressed self-determination rather than assimilation. Attempts were made to create bilingual education programs and more culturally relevant curricula as well as to engage local communities in the education process. Still, there is much more work that needs to be done.47
A three-year longitudinal study undertaken in Melbourne, Australia, during the mid-1980s revealed that compared to children who were not removed from their homes, those that were removed were less likely to have undertaken a post secondary education; twice as likely to report having been arrested by police and having been convicted of an offence; twice as likely to report current use of illicit substances; and much more likely to report intravenous use of illicit substances. A national random survey of indigenous peoples conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 1994 found that removal did not increase the likelihood that Aboriginal children would have higher incomes, be employed, or attain higher levels of education.48
New Zealand

Following the 1840 signing of the Treaty of Waitangi that established New Zealand as a British Crown colony, the state began to use education as a means to ‘civilize’ the Maori peoples. The colonial state subsidized churches to administer missionary schools. The 1847 Educational Ordinance encouraged the establishment of industrial boarding schools to remove Maori children from what was seen as their ‘primitive’ cultures. Block grants were made available to church-based mission schools as long they provided instruction in English rather than in Maori.

However, as Maori resistance against settlers grew, they began to abandon boarding schools. An 1867 Act provided village day schools that would also deliver English-only instruction. The Maori school system ran parallel to the public primary school system. Maori children could attend either, but only until they reached secondary school. Until 1941, no state-funded secondary schooling was available to Maori students. The only avenue available for further education was Maori denominational boarding schools (providing two years of secondary education) funded by Department of Education scholarships if parents could not pay the necessary fees. A small number of Maori denominational boarding schools had been established prior to 1880. Among them were the Maori girls’ schools of St Stephen’s (1846), St Joseph’s (1867) and Hukarere (1875). Schools for Maori boys included St Stephen’s (1845) and Te Aute (1854).49
A significant feature of this school system was that the Maori themselves participated in its establishment. Under the 1867 Act, a Maori school could only be established if there was a formal request by Maori, who also had to provide land, half the cost of the building and a quarter of the salary of teachers. By 1879, 57 Maori Schools had been established.
The purpose of the Maori denominational boarding schools was to take Maori students that seemed to have the highest potential for assimilation, inculcate European values and customs, and then send the ‘assimilated’ Maori students back home to uplift their communities. The goal was thus to create a class structure within Maori communities whereby the more ‘assimilated elite’ could manage those parts of the community deemed “savage” by Europeans. Maori girls received particular attention because, since they were seen as the primary caretakers of children, they were in the best position to inculcate European values to the next generation.50
Comparable to USA boarding schools, Maori girls were educated along the lines of an English middle-class Victorian girls’ school. They were to dress and behave like middle-class women. However, unlike their English counterparts, Maori girls were also subjected to hard labor, responsible for all the cleaning, meal preparation, laundry, and gardening of the school.
Similar to the USA and Canada, Maori children were to be inculcated with European values, but were not to be given the means to be successful in the higher strata of that society. For instance, shortly after his appointment in 1901, the Director General of Education visited the Maori denominational boarding schools. His report recommended these schools strengthen the instruction in English and introduce manual and technical instruction such as carpentry, metalwork, cooking, sewing, hygiene and drill. At the same time, he wanted the Maori secondary schools to abandon studies in Latin. Many Maori elders resisted this policy, arguing that they could teach children practical skills themselves; instead, they wanted Maori youth to be equipped to become professionals.

Between 1900 and 1902, the government introduced The Manual and Technical Instruction Acts, which provided schools funding in exchange for teaching more practical subjects. Denominational schools that did not fulfill this mandate were publicly admonished. For instance, the principal of Te Aute College suffered a public inquiry in 1906 for coaching Maori students for entry examinations into the University of New Zealand. When Maori students became too successful, the government mandated that schools change curriculum to focus on agriculture, carpentry, and domestic science and hygiene. Nevertheless, many Maori children did manage to excel in higher school examinations at the time.

In 1941, in line with the desire to make secondary schooling available to all children, the State began to establish Native District High Schools intended for those Maori students who could not attend the denominational boarding schools. New Maori schools were established throughout the first half of the twentieth century, although some schools were transferred into the Public School System. By 1950, there were 150 Maori schools. Eventually, however, the state recommended that there be only one state school system. In 1969, the remaining 105 Maori schools were transferred to the public schools system and the Maori School system was dis-established. This dis-establishment was not necessarily conducted in collaboration with Maori communities. Some supported the system, despite its faults, because it was a means by which to focus specifically on Maori educational needs.51
In 1900, 90 percent of Maori children could speak Maori; by 1960, only 26 percent of Maori children could speak their language. Since a 1986 landmark case brought before the Waitangi Tribunal, the right to language has gained increased legitimacy, spurring language revitalization in schools. Since 1984, Maori peoples have gained increased opportunities to receive government monies to fund Maori-based educational initiatives. In 1988, a Royal Commission report claimed that the education system had purposely introduced assimilation policies that oppressed Maori culture and language, and called for culturally relevant and bilingual Maori education.52

Lutheran missionaries arrived in Samiland during the 17th century and encouraged them to speak Finnish, the missionary language. In their desire to “save” the Sami peoples from their heathen ways, several Christian schools were established in Samiland. The goal of these educational establishments was to educate Sami men in the ways of Christianity so that they could then return to their homes as missionaries. The missionaries did not set up an educational system for all Sami children, but their training schools served as precursors for later educational systems established in Samiland.53

As nation-states began to develop in the areas inhabited by the Sami, these states began to establish special schools to assimilate the Sami peoples into the dominant culture. Established originally by Christians, these schools would later come under the control of the governments of the nation states. Although many of the schools established were for Sami children in Norway, there were also such schools in Finland and Sweden. Both Norway and Sweden passed laws prohibiting the use of Sami language in schools and at home. In Finland (in 1809 it had become an autonomous region under the Russian empire) assimilatory policies were not as explicitly articulated as in Norway or Sweden.54
The process of assimilation was targeted at Sami children, who were stripped of their culture and made to feel ashamed of their people at an early age. By the 19th century, a school system had already been established across Samiland. Lessons in these schools were most often conducted in the Sami language. During the 19th century, however, as nationalism began to play a larger role in the nation states, the school systems within Samiland were revised to force Sami children to stop speaking their language and to adopt Christian cultural practices.
The period of the boarding schools lasted from the 19th century until the 1960s, when the Sami peoples began to gain political power and recognition. First hand accounts describe boarding school experience as being very traumatic, especially the process of being removed from homes at such an early age. However, not all Sami peoples considered boarding schools to be a completely hostile environment. At the same time, the Sami peoples had already been subjected to a long period of Christianization, so according to some Sami scholars, the process was not necessarily as disruptive as it was for indigenous children in other countries who were the first generation to be Christianized.55
In addition, these schools were not specific to Sami children, but were mandatory for anyone who lived too far away to be able to attend a local school. Thus, these schools were actually mixed rather than Sami-specific. With some exceptions, (such as special schools for children of Sami reindeer herding families in Sweden), anyone who lived in a geographically isolated area or who did not attend public school, was mandated to attend a residential school. Boarding schools in Finland were not as regimented or brutal in terms of disciplinary control as elsewhere, most likely because in Finland the boarding school system also served Finnish students. Moreover, the boarding schools in Finland were generally smaller in size and the focus was on academic training. Manual labor was thus not part of the daily school schedule. Still, the process of being removed from homes and prohibited from speaking the Sami language has resulted in cultural alienation, loss of language, and lowered self-esteem.56
In Norway, children were not allowed to speak the Sami language in the schools until 1959. Since the later 1960s, many major changes have occurred within the school systems regarding Sami peoples. In the 1980s, many educational acts were passed that allowed Sami to be taught as a language of instruction. Since 1997, the Sami Education Council has opened several schools that focus on Sami content within the curriculum and conduct lessons in the Sami language.57
Despite these changes, the legacy of cultural repression still exists. Many older Sami still refuse to speak their language. In addition, Sami parents still feel alienated from schools, and hence do not participate as much as they could in shaping school curricula and policy.58
Russian Federation

In 1924, the USSR established the Committee of the North designed to administer the affairs of Northern minorities (indigenous groups were designated as “northern minorities” except for the Yakuts or the Komi which have their own autonomous republics). At the beginning, the emphasis was on preserving traditional pathways, but eventually the policies moved toward forced assimilation. In the 1920s, the Committee launched a three-pronged educational initiative:

1) Establishment of Northern cultural bases which combined various educational, research, and economic activities.

2) The development of a school system which included 62 boarding schools (which housed 20 percent of all Northern minority children).

3) The alphabetization of Northern minority languages.59
The system’s original mandate was based on the children being able to stay in their traditional territories. Schools were also scheduled according to local customs and seasonal economic activity. However, in the 1930s, the USSR’s pursuit of industrialization and centralization gradually caused it to rescind its previous policies that allowed for some form of self-determination. In 1935, the Committee of the North was abolished. However, full attention was not devoted to policies of assimilation until the period 1950s-1980s.60
In the 1920s, schools were established among the 26 indigenous peoples’ groups in the North that included indigenous languages. Thirteen alphabets were created using the Roman alphabet for indigenous languages. By 1926, eighteen residential schools were in place across Siberia, and five day-schools had been established.61 However, in 1937, Northern alphabets were outlawed. After World War II, the USSR began the process of Russification. Northern groups were forcibly settled into mix areas in order to assimilate and foster Russian unity. From the age of 2 years, Northern indigenous children were forced to attend boarding schools where they were prohibited from speaking their languages. By 1970, no indigenous languages were being taught in schools.62

The boarding schools were originally designed for nomadic tribes so that they could receive a systematic education but it soon became compulsory for all children. Children were taken away when 1-2 years of age and returned when 15-17 years of age with no knowledge of their traditional communities. By World War II, for instance, eighty percent of Evenki peoples were studying in residential schools, and living away from their homes at least six months out of the year.63 This policy deformed traditional family structures, leaving returned children without the skills to survive in their communities. The education was of poor quality so that Northern peoples could not find jobs, but their traditional livelihoods were also undermined. In the past few years, boarding schools have been transformed into day-schools, and the system is being reconsidered.64


Many countries in Asia send indigenous children who live in remote areas to boarding schools. In 1996, the Department of Social, Home Affairs, Education and Culture of Indonesia, as well as the Religion Ministries decided to provide financial aid and transportation for children living in remote areas or so that they could attend boarding schools.65 In West Kalimantan, for instance, the majority of secondary school children attended boarding schools in the capital of Lanjak, and only returned home for weekends or holidays.66 Vietnam also utilizes boarding schools for indigenous children. The 1946 Constitution of Vietnam supports the instruction of indigenous children in their own languages. However, national educational policies mandate the use of Vietnamese as the language of instruction. In addition, over half of the teachers in indigenous areas, are not properly trained. As a result, illiteracy rates run as high as 93 percent among indigenous children in some areas.67

In the 1950s Xinjiang, Inner-Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia, and Guangxi -- five provinces in China with large minority populations – were designated as autonomous minority nationality regions. They were granted increased local control over the administration of resources, taxes, birth planning, education, legal, jurisdiction and religious expression. Between 1949 - 1980s, schools in these regions were oriented towards assimilation rather than cultural preservation. During the Cultural Revolution in particular, minority customs were denounced as ‘primitive’, and schools in these regions were forced to teach in Mandarin only. Since 1978, however, the government's policy towards minorities have changed. The Chinese government has adopted various measures to improve relationships with minorities. Some of the government efforts include increasing educational opportunities for minority children by establishing boarding schools, with some instruction conducted in local languages, increasing teacher salaries in minority regions and lowered requirements and affirmative action consideration for university admission.68
Despite these efforts, the educational attainment of children in minority regions is far less than that of other children. While there is increased efforts to teach curricula in students’ first language, these students often fail to qualify in the Chinese language portion of the examination.69 As an example, during the Cultural Revolution, Mongol schools were shut down and Mongolian students received their instruction in Chinese. After the Cultural Revolution, Mongol schools at various levels were set up, recruiting Mongols from both rural and urban areas. While students did receive education in Mongolian, this project failed to prepare them to succeed in a Chinese dominated society that, from the 1980s onward, was increasingly market oriented.70
In India indigenous or tribal peoples generally did not have access to education for many reasons. Many tribal communities are geographically dispersed and did not have sufficient population density for the Indian government to build schools in their communities. Tribal communities also lacked the financial resources to send children to school. Before 1980, literacy rates were often around 8 percent in many communities. Within this context, residential schools or Ashram schools were developed for tribal children. The first experimental schools were developed by followers of Gandhi in Gujarat during pre-independence days. After Independence, various voluntary organizations began Ashram schools in Maharastra, Gujarat, and Orissa. These schools also shared some of the ‘civilization’ assumptions of other boarding schools in which it was assumed that these schools could provide an environment to develop a child’s personality better than its own community. The government of India began an effort to open Ashram schools as well, but these efforts did not start increasing until the third

5-year plan. 71 The government Ashram schools focus less on spiritual development.

In Malaysia, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (JHEOA) became responsible for administering the affairs of indigenous peoples in 1961. In 1961, Government policy advocated the integration of indigenous peoples into the larger society, while also advocating the teaching of indigenous languages and public education designed to eradicate racism against indigenous peoples. These latter policies were not implemented. As part of the assimilation policies, JHEOA began working with Islam missionary societies to encourage the Islamization of indigenous peoples through various measures, including Islamic residential schools. In general, JHEOA provides education for indigenous children between grades 1-3 after which they must go to boarding school to receive further education.72
Middle East

During the British Mandate, a Boarding school was set up for the Palestinian Bedouin boys. The school was attended by the sons of the elite for the purpose of providing skills for future tribal leaders to be able to negotiate with colonial officials. A girls’ school was opened in 1934. Many of the graduates of these schools became shaykhs and other prominent peoples. The boys at the school were encouraged to retain their traditional tribal dress and were permitted to visit their family encampments regularly. After the establishment of Israel, a few attended a boarding school in Nazareth and became professionals in Bedouin society. But for the most part, education for the Bedouin peoples has not been a priority for Israel. Most drop out of school before reaching twelfth grade. The curricula is not culturally or linguistically relevant. There is a shortage of schools, and most schools provide incomplete primary education. In a few of these schools, children live by themselves in makeshift boarding areas around the schools.73 Similar types of makeshift boarding schools where children live by themselves and care for themselves exist among the Al Murrah peoples in Saudi Arabia. Students stay in a one room schoolhouse while their families leave with their herds after the summer harvest. They are taught by a Palestinian teacher sent by the Saudi Arabian government. In another school house, boys share a wooden shelter while their families travel with their herds. Other tribal groups are developing similar spontaneous settlements.74

In Oman, the government, in conjunction with the United Nations, began to sponsor development programs for the Harasiis as oil companies began their operations. This development project included the establishment of a boarding school for boys (girls could attend on a day basis), as well as other service programs. The boarding school has both primary and a secondary level schooling, with enrollments climbing yearly. The goal is to provide skills to allow the Harasiis to expand employment opportunities particularly with the oil companies as well as the army. This effort was supported by the Harasiis however, they also desired to maintain their traditional ways of life through animal husbandry and have requested that development schemes take this into account. These desires have not met with government support. They have also become frustrated with the fact that despite education, they have not really been given jobs with the oil companies and have not seen the expanded economic opportunity they have been promised.75 Another issue is that the Oman government presumed that the Harasiis would not want their girls to board, and insisted on a gender segregation that the Harasiis do not particularly support. Hence, the community built its own makeshift dormitory for girls so that they could also attend boarding school.76
In Iran, there are special boarding schools offered between grades 9 to 12 for children from tribal backgrounds who live far from the cities. Girls and boys attend different schools. These schools have strict entrance examinations and only admit exemplary students. Graduate students are more likely to obtain professional jobs after graduation.77

Several countries in East Africa have set up special boarding schools, some specifically targeting girls. In Kenya, the Christian denominations controlled 75 percent of schools as late as 1955. Indigenous peoples are generally within the category of “marginalized groups.” During the 1970s, Kenya set up the Remote Areas Boarding Programme to provide education through low-cost boarding schools. However, the schools were flooded by non- indigenous students, and the indigenous communities did not participate. In the late 1970s, Kenya decided to suspend the schools because of their ineffectiveness to educate pastoralists.78 A number of factors contributed to low participation such as insecurity and armed conflict as well as school expenses. Many boarding schools suffered also from poor living conditions, lack of adequate water, lack of safeguards to protect the safety of children, particularly girls, and overcrowding. However, there are many communities that desire the expansion of boarding schools and are more directly involved in the promotion of education. There are some boarding schools for girls in Kenya that have large enrollments, although the overall impact on education is low.

There are also ten boarding schools in Djibouti, although only a few are operating. Generally, nomadic groups are reluctant to send their children to schools. In addition, they are often reluctant to send girls because of concerns for the girls’ safety. Dormitories are criticized for being poorly equipped and managed. There is also low community engagement in school policy.79 In addition, there are informal boarding school practices. For example, in Djibouti, nomadic families are often placed with urban families. This has led to a dependence of rural families on families in urban areas and an exodus of the younger generation.
In Eritrea, during the post-liberation period, the Eritrean Liberation Front involved communities in decision-making processes, including education. In recent years, higher priority has been given to expanding the provision of education in nomadic areas, including the development of boarding schools. But while they help build skills and manage their operation, communities are not currently involved in curricula development. Teachers often try to adapt the curricula to indigenous cultures, but often do not have the required training to do so.
In Botswana, the San/Basarwa people are moved to schools with hostels. To address the problems of geographic isolation, the government transports children to these schools every school term. Thus, they do get basic schooling, but not in their languages. These Remote Area Dweller Hostels tend be very unsympathetic places for San students. The idea of separating parents and children are foreign to San culture and the pain and alienation that San students feel at boarding schools can be acute. In Botswana, in 1999, 120 primary school children walked several kilometers to run away from the abuse they were suffering at the hostel. One of the children, age 8, died from exhaustion.80
In Sierra Leone after the demise of legal slave trading, the London-based Church Missionary Society joined with the government to create separate villages where children could be trained in trades, farming and, for the most promising, teaching or mission work. Through separating children from their “uncivilized” parents, mission boarding schools were seen as a key strategy for inculcating European and Christian values into children ‘untainted’ by the influence of their parents.81
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, introduced a policy of mass education and established dozens more secondary boarding schools throughout the country. In reports by the mainstream media, these schools are credited with helping to narrow ethnic cleavages that plague many other countries in the region. Others, however, have complained that this system is under funded, there are problems with sexual abuse of girls in these schools, parents cannot often afford school fees and education is based on the colonial model.82
In Africa, schools are often looked upon with suspicion as an attempt to sedentize nomadic groups, although there are some nomadic groups that may seek expanded economic opportunities and have a desire to become more integrated into the dominant society, particularly in North and Northeast Kenya. Some feel that schooling alienates children from their communities and does not allow them to learn the skills they need to function in their own context. A saying is “Children go to schools empty and come out empty.”83

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