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Crow woman says Carlisle boarding school bittersweet, St. Labre report due in Summer

Posted at 1:39 AM, Apr 19, 2024

BILLINGS - The Carlisle Industrial Indian School in Pennsylvania brought in thousands of Native American children from 1879 to 1918.

The school made the students shed their native culture to assimilate into American culture.

Dr. Janine Pease spoke at the Western Heritage Center on Thursday afternoon, in conjunction with an exhibit called, “Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories.”

In the evening, Pease, part of the adjunct faculty at Little Big Horn College, spoke at MSU Billings.

More than 100 years ago, 97 Crow students went to Carlisle for high school academics and vocational training.

Of that group, 77 came back to Montana, 17 did not complete their educations and three died.

Pease returned earlier this week after doing some research at the school, which has a legacy that she calls bittersweet.

“The bitter part about Carlisle is that it was a military school, and it demanded the students cut their hair,” Pease said. “They had to wear military uniforms, both girls and boys. They were not allowed to speak their languages.”

Carlisle was the first government-run boarding school for Native Americans.

Civil War veteran Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt came up with the idea that became the model used by hundreds of other Indian boarding schools across the country.

“The sweet part is that they did achieve academically, and they became really probably the most literate people in the state of Montana at the time,” Pease said.

Pease has also been working on research to identify graves at St. Labrae in Ashland.

St. Labrae and other Crow boarding schools were set up for 1st through 6th graders.

“A historic research firm giving us feedback about what archives they visited and the sort of the nature of what they found in the archives,” Pease said.

Pease expects to see the report on St. Labrae in June.

She says the research takes time because the Crow Reservation had one agent, who kept records of for everything.

The boarding school information is bundled with many other reports.

But she did have help finding information at Carlisle and was able to find the illnesses for two students who had died and found out where another had been buried.

“The death certificate that I was able to acquire there says that he was buried in Crow Agency.,” Pease said.

And back in Billings, she can now see the traveling Carlisle school exhibit at the Western Heritage Center, a vital part of the history to be shared and preserved.

“Very representative then of the experience that students had in the boarding schools,” Pease said about the exhibit.

As for the students at the school, she believes complaints about indoctrination are valid.

"It didn't work out very well for individuality,” she said. “It kind of destroyed self-identity."

And Pease said, while there were negatives about boarding schools, some families look back fondly on any good experiences at Carlisle.

“In their ancestry, they're very proud,” she said.