Mapping American Indian Federal Boarding Schools

For the digital project, I’m proposing that I create a Story Map using GIS software to create an interactive map of American Indian federal boarding schools. Most of my research has revolved around American Indian boarding schools. For those unfamiliar, the federal government created boarding schools in the late 1800s to send American Indian children to in order to assimilate them into white, Anglo-American society. These schools maintained many cruel practices, including militaristic practices, forbidding other languages besides English, and basically “renting” students to people in the community to do manual labor with little to no accountability on the institution’s part. They have largely shaped American Indian education and culture in the United States and the effects of them are still apparent in American Indian communities today.

I never formally learned about these in school, in high school or even college. The only reason I heard of federal American Indian boarding schools was when I began an internship at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona where I worked on an exhibit that centered around student experiences in them. Last semester in research seminar, I conducted research on the enforcement of Anglo-American gender roles used to assimilate students at the Phoenix Indian School and the Sherman Indian Institute between World War II and 1963.

Memorial Hall at the closed Phoenix Indian School. This building has been preserved since the school’s closure in 1991 and the land is now Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, Arizona. Courtesy of Flickr user, C Hanchey.

When I was in the depths of researching boarding schools, it was difficult to find a specific place where I could learn more about them that wasn’t Wikipedia or a scholarly monograph. Even in the Wikipedia pages, it was difficult to find general information about when they were in operation, or any current digital resources to learn more. I found a map on the Carlisle Indian School website, but it was extremely difficult to use and offered little information. In embarking on this project, I hope to create an interactive map that is easy and clean to use. The names of schools will be mapped out in their respective locations, but will also include the years of operation, and further links to relevant digital resources to make them more accessible to scholars and the general public alike. For this resource, I’d also like to be able to make it collaborative in some way so if there is any information that I missed on the project it could be easily added, either through contacting me directly or a different process.

If anyone is interested in learning more about American Indian boarding schools, this is an excellent and informative exhibit titled, Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories. (I archived yearbook photos for it when I interned at this museum!)

2 Replies to “Mapping American Indian Federal Boarding Schools”

  1. This is such a great idea! There is definitely a huge gap in scholarship for various educational trends in the United States–it could be interesting to connect this to a larger narrative of educational exclusion for people of color. Perhaps making a comparison between segregated Black schools, Indian schools and white schools in this time period? Looking forward to seeing this!

  2. Ellie, this is a really great idea. I appreciate how it emerges from your own efforts to find and explore this history which is useful in terms of underscoring the gap and need for a resource like this.

    The PDF of that map you identified is a great starting resource ( ) It looks like many of those sites also have wikipedia pages that include images and additional references. So I think three is already a great set of resources between those two things and the other research you have done to build out a kind of reference tool/platform to document the history of these sites.

    Since you already have that relationship and connection with the Heard museum and their exhibition you could also explore if they would be up for linking to the resource you produce and helping promote it when it all comes together.

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