"There are things that cannot be fixed." The enduring - and tragic reach of residential schools

Jun 4, 2021

Bois Forte children of the Vermilion Lake district, about 1915
Credit MN Historical Society

When the bodies of 215 children - some as young as three - were discovered in an unmarked, mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School it brought to light a part of history that many white people are unfamiliar with.

In the US as well as Canada, residential boarding schools for Native kids were instituted as a way to "kill the Indian and save the child" by preparing them to assimilate into white culture.  In reality, they were a thinly veiled effort to wipe out Native language, culture, family bonds, and "get the Indians out of the way."

There were 16 boarding schools in Minnesota and 11 in Wisconsin.

The first residential school in Minnesota was the White Earth Indian School in 1871. But it wasn't until 1978 and the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act that Native American parents gained the legal right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools - the same year, incidentally, that the Kamloops Indian Residential School shut its doors for good.

And while much of the non-Native population is horrified at the discovery, Linda LeGarde Grover just sighs.  "This is not a surprise," she says. "This is not something new.  It's become part of who we are."

Linda LeGarde Grover is the author of From Assimilation to Termination: The Vermilion Lake Indian School and you can read it online here.

And you can listen to Grace Smith's first-person account of growing up in a residential school in an interview we first aired in October of 2017.