Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA
The caption reads: WOUNDED YELLOW ROBE. HENRY STANDING BEAR. CHAUNCY YELLOW ROBE. SIOUX BOYS AS THEY ENTERED THE SCHOOL IN 1883. THREE YEARS LATER. This image appears in John N. Choate's Souvenir of the Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, PA: J. N. Choate, 1902).

6 Boarding School Laws Still on the Books

Christina Rose

Did you know it is still legal to withhold food and clothing from Indian children who don’t attend school? Or that Indian children can be placed in reform schools without parental consent?

While it is unlikely these laws would be enforced, these and other boarding school laws are still on the federal law books. According to Native American Rights Staff Attorney Melody McCoy, some of the laws are at least outdated, and at worst assimilationist, racist and genocidal.

As bad as some may sound, a few have actually benefitted tribes in present-day courtrooms.

McCoy and Todd County, South Dakota, School Superintendent Dr. Roger Bordeaux (Association of Tribal Schools) have looked at these laws and considered their purpose. Should the laws stand? Be removed? Are they outdated or could there still be some relevance?

Excerpts of the laws are below. To read the full law, click the links provided. Let us know what you think!

25 USC § 302, Indian Reform School—Enacted June 21, 1906

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, is authorized and directed to . . . specifically provide an “Indian Reform School”, and to make all needful rules and regulations for its conduct, and the placing of Indian youth therein, and, “That the consent of parents, guardians, or next of kin shall not be required to place Indian youth in said school.”

In 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Winner School System, which, among other complaints, was accused of sending children to reform schools without alerting parents. This law needs to be repealed as it may have been the law that allowed that practice to occur.

McCoy called the law offensive, and said, “The federal Indian schools were already bad enough—why would the government want one that was even more penal/correctional? Also, the express provision that parental consent is NOT required to send Indian kids to reform school would—at least today—be subject to some basic due process rights (like notice and a hearing) under the U.S. Constitution.”

Bordeaux said,  “This is a concept discussed as recently as 1976. Repeal.”


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chahta ohoyo's picture
chahta ohoyo
Submitted by chahta ohoyo on
why not!!! we are ALWAYS one step ahead and two steps behind, even here in the '21st' century....

candyo's picture
Submitted by candyo on
This was a time where Native Americans were treated not like humans but less than animals. Today, it is inconceivable that there would be laws like those of the removal period. My father told me he jumped a train after running away from a boarding school he was made to go to years ago. He was beaten if he spoke his own Native tongue and starved for days without food. He said he was very thin and his bones stuck out on his ribs. It makes me cry and he rarely spoke about it to anyone.

rockymissouri's picture
Submitted by rockymissouri on
Sickening and heartbreaking..... No matter how much time has passed, their voices are still powerful. The photographs, and the testimony of families and witnesses are important. They are haunting. They matter...

kbearchief's picture
Submitted by kbearchief on
I am 62 yrs. old, but I can recall that; in the 1950s and 1960s, seeing the Indian kids walking around with their heads shaved. I later found out that they had been sent to the Yakima, WA Childrens Detention Center for such things as curfew violation, or not attending school. Indian kids around the Rez were picked up like there was a bounty for them. They were always held for two weeks or more, sometimes longer if their parents lived in the romote areas of the reservation and it took longer to notify them about where their child was. Often Indian families thought that their children were simply with their others relatives during their absence from home, and not that they were in the detention center. I remember how the white kids used to ridicule the boys and girls who had their heads shaved... but this was also during a period when we were all facing racism, discrimination, and prejudice in the schools and everywhere else. We made progress beginning with the AIM stand, when Red Pride, Indian Power became the cries leading to our social advancement and once again standing up for ourselves. However, in recent times racism against Native Americans is again raising its ugly head across Indian Country..