Finding the Balance: Student Voices and Cultural Loss at Sherman Institute

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Since mid-1990s, scholars of Indian education have placed increasing emphasis on indigenous approaches to federal Indian boarding schools during the early 20th century. Where earlier studies emphasized the design and operation of boarding schools, more recent literature often examines how Native students, families, and communities sometimes used the schools to access employment, offset financial hardship, and gain new skills and perspectives. To some, scholarly emphasis on "the brighter side of boarding schools" covers over the hardship and loss brought about by institutions created to eradicate Native American cultures and identities. In this article, I address a central question: How can scholars of Indian education illuminate Native approaches to boarding schools without underplaying the tremendous cultural loss they inflicted on indigenous communities? Drawing on the expansive secondary literature on federal Indian education and primary source documents from Sherman Institute, a federal Indian boarding school in Riverside, California, I argue that studies of Indian education can benefit from deeper consideration of the concept of "cultural genocide" and careful attention to Native voices of the past and present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)124-144
Number of pages21
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Boarding schools
  • cultural genocide
  • Indian education


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