VIVIAN DELGADO COLUMN: Addressing disparities of boarding and public schools

We as a society have reached a crossroad where nothing less than truth, wisdom and compassion will have any meaning or serve any purpose as we strive for peace and wellness for “every” person.

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Bringing attention to the atrocities of boarding schools in the United States from approximately 1860-1978 informed our citizens about the work that needs to be addressed in our K-12 schools, colleges and universities.

We must include in this picture the same systemic approach found concurrently in state funded public schools in order to know and understand that many offenses did not end when some boarding schools closed. We are a “knowing” society where information is at our fingertips, and where we have finally arrived at a place politically and socially to correct, apprise and act upon the injustices of our educational institutions.

We will see more positive attention given to literature, courses, programs and media about and by Indigenous scholars as they address social, environmental, economic, racial and political justice. We will become familiarized with brilliant Indigenous scholars and their diverse and creative ways that they educate all people as they address our world including human beings as one single organism.

We will also see renewed enthusiasm for the future as our young students assume their rightful intellectual contributions and responsibilities to be whole once more.

We will see more non-Black, Indigenous and People of Color advocates and allies (a.k.a. BIPOC) among younger people.


As a re-cap to what many of you already know and for those who do not know please read the findings for boarding schools, state funded public schools and their effects on Indigenous people and society. The Atlantic, Annette Pember tells us:

  • Boarding schools became known for their pervasive physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children.
  • Boarding schools had scarce medical attention provided to children.
  • Boarding schools were part of the coercion to get families, the federal government and primarily Catholic churches into sending children to live and attend boarding schools.

The New York Times, 2018; also informs us that:

  • State funded public schools as of 2018 exercised corporal punishment and is still legal in private schools in every U.S. state except New Jersey and Iowa, legal in 19 states and practiced in 15 states and allowed in private schools in 48 states. Students are typically spanked with paddles that measure up to two feet by several inches wide.
  • State funded public schools (see data by specific school districts) have over representation of deficits in numbers for Indigenous and BIPOC students.
  • State funded public schools under-utilize BIPOC students as model students and role models even when they deserve it.
  • State funded public schools discriminate against BIPOC due to poverty and/or low-income levels.
  • State funded public schools lack culturally responsive attitudes and knowledge about family deaths, feelings of not belonging, hunger, sickness, and racism.

Other issues to consider, no matter where you were educated as an Indigenous person, the asperity of colonialism was enforced. If you were/are BIPOC the effort directed towards you to become a dependent product of the mainstream system was in full effect. The educational institutions in the U.S. were not developed with BIPOC in mind, they were created by and for the white racial frame to uphold its colonial authority and privileges. Today we are addressing the multi-layered angles of how federal and state governments have harmed not only BIPOC but all people in their quest for power and control.
We as a society have reached a crossroad where nothing less than truth, wisdom and compassion will have any meaning or serve any purpose as we strive for peace and wellness for “every” person.

Vivian Delgado is a professor of Native American studies at Bemidji State University.

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