By Clare Amann, age 13

Bill Wight’s fifth-grade class photo from the Stewart Indian School in Nevada. Native American children at boarding schools were forced to cut their hair in order to receive rations. They were often punished for speaking their language and practicing their religion. /Bill Wright

 

In 1945, at the age of 6, Bill Wright, a Patwin Indian, was sent to Stewart Indian School in Nevada. He was given a name that was different from the one chosen for him at birth and forced to assimilate to the American school system and lifestyle. He told NPR that he was forced to shave his head and was bathed in kerosene. When Bill Wright returned from school he did not understand the language his grandmother was speaking and she did not recognize his white name.

Starting in the 1870s, Native American youth were forced to endure a similar experience to Bill Wright’s. Boarding schools that separated Native American children from their families made them assimilate to mainstream American language and culture. Native American children were taught their culture and lifestyle were inferior to American culture. Children often forgot their language and became unfamiliar with their family’s culture. Though families were devastated by this,  parents sent their children to these schools because there was no other option.

Native American boarding schools traumatized young Native American children. A report in 1920 drew the conclusion that Native American boarding school children were malnourished, overworked, highly punished and poorly educated. Another report in 1969 declared “Indian education to be a national tragedy.”