On Canada's Day of Truth & Reconciliation, a history of Indian Boarding Schools in Kansas

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

September 30 is Orange Shirt Day, also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. The holiday, which was celebrated across Canada for the first time this year, was created to remember the indigenous children who endured unspeakable cruelty and even lost their lives at Indian residential schools across North America during the 19th and 20th centuries. Although the holiday is not officially celebrated in the United States, many Native American tribes hold events and wear orange in remembrance of the children who were sent to these boarding schools. According to the Boarding School Healing Project, seven of the 367 Indian boarding schools in the United States were in Kansas. Here is the story of four of those schools, one of which is still open today.

Osage Manual Labor School, Neosho County

The girl's school at the Osage Manual Labor School
The boy's school at the Osage Manual Labor School

The Osage Manual Labor School for Boys was opened in May of 1847 by a group of Jesuits lead by Father John Schoenmakers. In October of that year, a group of nuns from Kentucky called the Sisters of Loretto opened the Osage Manual Labor School for Girls. As the number of students from the local Osage tribe increased, additional buildings were added to the campus, including a blacksmith shop, flour mill, tool-house, and bakery. Eventually, as the Osage people moved to Indian territory, the schools' populations became predominantly white. In 1870, the boy's school was renamed the St. Francis Institute for Boys, and the girl's school became St. Ann's Academy. St. Francis closed in 1891 and St. Ann's was destroyed by a fire in 1895. 

Pottawatomie Baptist Manual Labor Training School, Topeka

The Baptist Mission at the Pottawatomie Baptist Manual labor Training School

The Pottawatomi people came to Kansas in the 1830s after being forced off their land in the Great Lakes region. Missionaries believed they could "civilize" the Native people by enrolling their children in manual labor schools, like the Baptist Manual Labor Training School near present-day Topeka. According to the Kansas Historical Society, children's experiences at the school were traumatic. Their traditional clothing was switched out for Westernized uniforms, and the Pottawatomi names their parents had given them were replaced by Christian ones. Because the missionaries didn't want the students to be re-exposed to the culture they were working to erase, most children went for long periods without seeing their families. At the school, students adhered to a strict schedule of prayer, studying, and chores. Boys worked in the fields, learned blacksmithing, and took care of livestock. Girls learned domestic skills like cooking, sewing, and laundry. The Pottawatomie School closed in 1861 after 13 years of operation. 

Shawnee Methodist Indian Manual Labor School, Fairway

The North Building of the Shawnee Methodist Mission

The Shawnee Manual Labor School was created as a result of an 1838 agreement between the United States Office of Indian Affairs and the Methodist Episcopal Church to operate a school at the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission. The Shawnee Methodist Labor School was founded by Thomas Johnson in 1839 in what is now the Kansas City, Kansas suburb of Fairway. The 200-acre campus included 16 buildings and housed over 200 children during its peak. Students learned English, agriculture, and Western religion during their time at the Shawnee Labor School. According to Kevin Abing of Marquette University, Johnson made use of slave labor at the school, much to the ire of local abolitionists. Johnson's engagement in pro-slavery politics during the Bleeding Kansas conflict eventually resulted in the school's closure in 1862, at the beginning of the Civil War.

Haskell Industrial Training School (Now Haskell Indian Nations University), Lawrence

Baseball players at Haskell Industrial Training School, 1923

Haskell is unique because unlike the other schools on this list, it's still open today, albeit as a university rather than a boarding school. Then called the United States Indian Industrial Training School, Haskell opened its doors to first through fifth graders in 1884. The school's population quickly grew from 22 students to over 400 in just one semester. Children were made to wear uniforms to enforce conformity, and the boys' long hair, seen as sacred by Native tribes, was cut short. Corporal punishment was often used on students who disobeyed the rules. Boys studied things like wagon making, farming and blacksmithing, while girls learned to cook and sew. In 1887, the school was renamed Haskell Institute after Dudley Haskell, a US Representative from Kansas's Second District. Eight years later, what was called "normal school" classes were incorporated into the curriculum, including what is believed to be the first typewriting class in the state. High schoolers began attending Haskell in 1927, and its football team became one of the best in Kansas through the 1930s. The last high school class graduated from Haskell in 1965, and in 1970 the school was renamed Haskell Indian Junior College. The final name change came in 1992, when it was rebranded Haskell Indian Nations University. Haskell currently enrolls about 1,000 students each semester representing over 140 tribes and is the nation's oldest continually operating federal school for Native Americans.