Native American Boarding School Project gathers oral histories

Boarding Schools

4/23/2013 8:47:48 AM


LOS ANGELES – The Native American Boarding School Visual History Project is gathering oral histories from alumni of boarding schools in an effort to remember and heal.

The nonprofit Cante Sica Foundation is sponsoring the project and calls the Native American boarding school experience a legacy for alumni, their families and communities.

The project will consist of a visual history archive and an interactive website that will educate people about the history of the American Indian boarding school system. The system was a policy of forced assimilation experienced by more than 100,000 Native American children between 1879 and 1975.

Phase 1 of the project will train teams of Native historians and filmmakers to collect visual testimonies from alumni now living in Southern California, including alumni of the Sherman Institute (now Sherman High School) in Riverside.

The majority of boarding school alumni are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s. With each passing year a significant number of alumni are lost and within a decade a majority of them will have passed away. Many have been unable to talk about their experiences until recently, and as they age, many may come to realize the importance of sharing their stories for future generations, reads a Cante Sica Foundation statement.

“For others, their boarding school years were among the best of their lives. Many fall somewhere in the middle. The project provides a forum for alumni to tell their sown stories in their own way,” it states.

The project is also meant to help students understand the persistent and often devastating effects caused by large-scale assimilation efforts, including post-traumatic stress, disappearance of language, cultural displacement, loss of family ties, domestic violence, addiction and suicide. Also, people will learn of positive stories of survival and the ingenuity of boarding school students.

The testimonies will be edited into shorter excerpts that users can access in an immersive multimedia environment. Interactive and downloadable lesson plans will help teachers use the website in their classrooms. Meanwhile, the unedited interviews will become a valuable visual history archive of primary sources for scholars, students and indigenous peoples worldwide.

Phase 2 will expand the archive to include interviews and information about boarding schools and their alumni from across the nation.

If you are a boarding school alumni and want to share your story or know of alumni elders, email DeLanna Studi at or call 310-528-5352 or Brian Wescott at or call 310-922-6466.

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