Away from Home:
Native American Boarding School Stories
The Clatsop County Historical Society’s current temporary exhibit, Away from Home: Native American Boarding School Stories, will run April 6, 2021 through May 25, 2021 at the Heritage Museum located on 16th and Exchange.
Please note: Away from Home contains stories of resilience and revitalization, agency and honor. Please be aware that it also contains descriptions of human indignities and hardships and terms that reflect historically racist perspectives and language from past eras. In speaking the truth about acts of seemingly unfathomable violence and suffering in the lives of Native peoples, this exhibition is advised for more mature audience members, grades eight to adult.
This exhibition is made possible by NEH on the Road, a special initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was adapted from the permanent exhibition, Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, organized by The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. It was adapted and toured for NEH on the Road by the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Beginning in the 1870s, the US government attempted to educate and assimilate American Indians into “civilized” society by placing children—of all ages, from thousands of homes and hundreds of diverse tribes—in distant, residential boarding schools. Many were forcibly taken from their families and communities and stripped of all signs of “Indianness,” even forbidden to speak their own language amongst themselves. Up until the 1930s, students were trained for domestic work and trade in a highly regimented environment. Many children went years without familial contact, and these events had a lasting, generational impact. Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories explores off-reservation boarding schools in a kaleidoscope of voices. Away from Home opens April 6, 2021 at the Heritage Museum, 1618 Exchange Street, Astoria, Oregon.
Native Americans responded to the often tragic boarding school experience in complex and nuanced ways. Stories of student resistance, accommodation, creative resolve, devoted participation, escape, and faith in one’s self and heritage speak individually across eras. Some families, facing increasingly scarce resources due to land dispossession and a diminishing way of life at home, sent their children to boarding schools as a refuge from these realities. In the variety of reactions, Ojibwe historian Brenda Childs finds that the “boarding school experience was carried out in public, but had an intensely private dimension.”
Unintended outcomes, such as a sense of “Pan Indianism” and support networks, grew and flourished on campuses, and advocates demanded reform. Boarding schools were designed to remake American Indians but it was American Indians who changed the schools. After graduation, some students became involved in tribal political office or the formation of civil rights and Native sovereignty organizations. The handful of federal boarding schools remaining today embrace Indigenous heritage, languages, traditions, and culture.