In the 1870s, just a few decades after Fr. De Smet’s establishment of the first Jesuit mission on Native land in the Rocky Mountains, the U.S. government was assiduously working to strip Native people of their cultural identity by a process of assimilation and indoctrination.
The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, established in 1879 in Pennsylvania, is an example of the government’s orchestrated campaign to remake Native people in the image of white Americans. Native children were forced from their homes and, in some cases, shipped thousands of miles east to attend the school, which was run by Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt. A onetime Civil War officer, Pratt ran the school like a rigid military academy, one where students were forced to reject their heritage and way of life.
The Carlisle School became a launching pad for a federal government program that contracted with Catholic religious orders, including the Jesuits and other Christian denominations, to run boarding schools for Native students across the American West.
From the late 1800s to the 1980s, Jesuits owned and/or operated boarding schools in the Midwest and western U.S. In the West, those schools were in what is present-day Montana, Alaska, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. In some cases, there are extensive records from Jesuit missions and boarding schools. In other cases, there are few historical resources dating back to a specific mission or school. Adding to the complexity, many historical records are held by dioceses.