Boarding School Visual History Project Gathers Oral Histories


The Los Angeles, California nonprofit Cante Sica Foundation is in the process of gathering oral histories from alumni for its American Indian Boarding School Visual History Project.

The project will have a visual history archive and an interactive website meant to educate users about the boarding school system in the United States. The boarding school systems involved the federal government sending American Indian children to schools away from their families, and it started with Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

Started by Army Captain Richard Henry Pratt in 1879, Carlisle was the first federal boarding school. Native students weren’t allowed to speak their language, wear traditional clothing or practice tribal culture. Teachers at the school even cut off their long hair.

“A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres,” Pratt said at an 1892 convention. “In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

The point of this boarding school project is to heal and remember as well as to educate others about the boarding school era. Alumni of the schools are getting older with each passing year, and many are lost every year. Many alumni haven’t been able to speak about their experiences at the boarding schools, but as they age, many realize the importance of sharing those experiences with future generations, says 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 own stories in their own way,” the statement says.

The oral testimonies will be edited so they are easily accessible and teachers will be able to download lesson plans.

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

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Dr. LaVonne Chenault-Goslin's picture
Dr. LaVonne Che...
Submitted by Dr. LaVonne Che... on
Dear Cante Sica Foundation: When do you foresee that this awesome and much-needed project would be finished? I am extremely pleased that your organization has taken this project on, and I hope that many, many schools will request the completed lesson plans when you have finished. Kudos to your organization for having the foresight to do this!!! Dr. LaVonne Chenault-Goslin (recently became doctor in education)

Melissa Otis's picture
Melissa Otis
Submitted by Melissa Otis on
I hope you take a look at the Canadian experience - you may need counsellor's available for some of your interviewees as these memories bring up difficult and painful memories. Indeed, in Canada they are going through a truth and reconciliation process as a result of boarding school trauma. Please keep the mental and emotional health of your informants in mind.