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Workshop on American Indian boarding schools coming to WVU

MORGANTOWN — Three hours from Morgantown in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879, is the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

Yet, many, even people from the area, don’t even know it existed. 

But Sandra Cianciulli, an Oglala Lakota and president of the Carlisle Indian School Project, wants people to know about it and the multiple issues that have never been addressed.

“Carlisle’s legacy is unique in that it’s the first of its kind,” she said. “The first government run non-reservation boarding school. It became clear, I think, that they thought if they were going to be assimilated they not be close to home.”

Participants in the upcoming American Indian Boarding Schools Archives Workshop hosted by WVU’s Native American Studies Program & University Libraries will learn about Carlisle, and the other American Indian boarding schools that followed.

The workshop, Aug. 5-6, will teach how the U.S. assimilation policy, which included boarding schools such as Carlisle, broadly fit into American history and its history of genocidal policies against Native Americans, NAS Program Coordinator Bonnie Brown said. Participants will learn how to use digital archives to search archived primary sources.

Brown said the goal is train-the-trainer so knowledge gained in the workshop can have a ripple effect. Space is limited and those interested can register at 

Cianciulli, who will present at the workshop, had ancestors, an aunt and an uncle, who were part of the first class.

“They survived the stay and they made it home and they have descendants,” she said. “So, that’s a comfort. A lot of kids from the first class didn’t.”

The ideal of the school was “kill the Indian, save the man,” Brown said. Many of the children brought to the school didn’t speak any English and had no way to verbalize their discomforts, fears, or needs.

The children brought to the school were educated, but not with the intent that any of them ever be president, Cianciulli said. Instead they were taught masonry, how to farm, make harnesses and the like. Essentially, training the kids how to be of service to white families, Brown said.

“I’d just like people to know that this is part of American Indian history,” said Cianciulli. “I just don’t want our history erased or written by somebody else. I think it’s important for a people to acknowledge the good and the bad of their history and move on. Allow us to move on.”

Canada, which also had boarding schools for native people, has been confronting its past through truth and reconciliation for years, Cianciulli said. Now, some of that truth is coming to America. 

In June, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which will review the legacy of federal boarding school policies.

“I want people to know this is a good thing,” Cianciulli said. “Finding out the truth, having transparency, listening to Indian people’s stories and taking them seriously.”

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