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Assimilation And Education: Indian Boarding Schools And Their Impacts On Indigenous Iowans

Talk of Iowa, hosted by Charity Nebbe

While Canada's deadly history with Indian boarding schools has been getting attention, the United States and states like Iowa have their own particular history with these institutions.

In 1896, the U.S. Congress approved $35,000 for a boarding school to be built "some four or five miles" from land of the Sac and Fox Indians residing in Iowa. Built in Toledo, the school opened in the fall of 1898 as a measure to separate children from their homes and assimilate them into the culture and religion of white Americans.

That fall, Pushetonequa, a 56-year-old Meskwaki leader, was quoted saying, "...you may come and kill us, but we will not give you our children." But over time even he was converted, after a trip to Washington, D.C.

Year-over-year, the number of Meskwaki children at the school increased. By the end of the first year, there were 50 enrolled.

"We've always had a reputation of being anti-education, which is half false and half true," said Johnathan Buffalo, the director of historic preservation at the Meskwaki Museum & Cultural Center. "We were against the education the children were getting because they were getting an education that just taught the boys to be manual laborers and girls to be domestics. They weren't being taught to be teachers and businessmen. That's what we were against."

On this episode of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe hears about the history of these boarding schools and the lasting impact this history of assimilation has had on indigenous Iowans.

"People don't like hearing about this part of history. It makes them very uncomfortable," said Linda LeGarde Grover, an indigenous historian and writer. "But I think it is about time that they learned, that they knew about this."


  • Linda LeGarde Grover, professor emeritus of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe people in Minnesota.
  • Johnathan Buffalo, director of historic preservation at the Meskwaki Museum & Cultural Center
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Zachary Oren Smith is a reporter covering Eastern Iowa