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Boarding Schools in Alaska

Class photograph, Sitka Industrial Training School. Elbridge W. Merrill photographs, ca. 1897-1929. ASL-PCA57-005.

Historic boarding schools for Alaska Natives were established by American newcomers (sometimes referred to as invaders or colonizers) to detribalize and assimilate indigenous people into Euro-American culture. The first boarding school established by Americans in Alaska occurred at Sitka in 1878 by Presbyterian missionaries, but in the decades that followed boarding schools opened across Alaska. These schools were operated by Christian missionaries of various denominations until around the turn of the 20th century when many of these schools were taken over by the federal government.

During this time some Alaska Natives were sent outside of Alaska to Indian Residential Schools, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania. By the late 20th century most boarding schools in Alaska had been discontinued.

Most of these programs separated children from their families and communities in order to immerse them in Euro-American culture. Students could not speak their native language, were dressed in Euro-American styled clothing, and taught about Western civilization. The historic legacy of boarding schools for Alaska Natives, as well as Native Hawaiians and Native Americans in the Lower-48 States, is that of trauma and abuse. The highest rates of abuse occurred in Christian operated schools.

Indigenous communities have remained critical of these past educational practices, but also of contemporary efforts that empower Euro-American pedagogy and minimize the validity of indigenous education systems and pedagogy. Today many tribal nations insist on community-based schools, including tribal colleges and universities.

Primary Sources

United States vs. Sheldon Jackson

Description District Court case file for United States vs. Sheldon Jackson (1885) that documents a Tlingit family and individual's attempt to free their children from the Presbyterian Boarding School at Sitka. This case concerns how the boarding school had claimed legal custody of the children attending the school and would not let families visit their children. In this case a Tlingit family and individual each issued a writ of habeas corpus, arguing the children were being held against their will by the school. Judge Ward McAllister ruled in favor of the Tlingit family and individual, allowed the children to return home, and informed the school they could not claim full custody of children attending the school.
Date created 1885
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation United States vs. Sheldon Jackson (1885), Sitka, Criminal Case # 9, Box AS 32893, Records of U.S. District Court, First Division, Alaska State Archives.
Online access District Court case file for United States vs. Sheldon Jackson [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Can-ah-couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin

Description District Court case file that documents a Tlingit mother's attempt to free her child from the Presbyterian Boarding School at Sitka. This case emerged because the school had claimed custody of the children attending the school and would not let families visit their children, even though the school was ordered by the court to stop such actions in 1885. In this case Can-ah-couqua issued a writ of habeas corpus, arguing her son was being held against his will by the school. The case file contains a letter from her son asking to be released and returned to his family. Judge Ward McAllister initially heard part of the case, but missionary Sheldon Jackson lobbied for a new judge. Lafayette Dawson was installed as the new judge in Sitka and he eventually ruled against Can-ah-couqua and in favor of the school, arguing that the boarding school needed authority to carry out its educational mission.
Date created 1886
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Can-ah-couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin (1886), Sitka, Civil Case # 32, Box AS 32239, Records of U.S. District Court, First Division, Alaska State Archives.
Online access District Court case file for Can-ah-Couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin [Alaska's Digital Archives]

District Court case file concerning Juneau boarding school operator C.N. Replogle

Description District Court case file concerning Juneau boarding school operator C.N. Replogle's effort to have the mother of a Tlingit child formerly of his school arrested for not returning the child to the school's custody. The court ruled in Replogle's favor, arrested the mother, and the child returned to his school's custody.
Date created 1893
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation In the matter of the application of Charles N. Replogle, Superintendent of the Mission, upon Douglas Island, Alaska, of Kanas Yearly Meeting of Orthodox Friends, on behalf of Nu-shukk, a minor Indian child, for a writ of Habeas Corpus (1893), Sitka [Juneau], Civil Case # 387, Box AS 32254, Records of U.S. District Court, First Division, Alaska State Archives.
Online access District Court case file concerning Juneau boarding school operator C.N. Replogle [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Keyword search for "boarding school"

Description Digitized primary sources as found on Alaska's Digital Archives found under the keyword "boarding school."
Date created Various
Repository Various Alaskan institutions
Online access Keyword search for "boarding school" [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Secondary Sources

Verdict and legal reply to Can-ah-couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin

Description Judge Lafayette Dawson's verdict and legal reply to Can-ah-couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin (1886). This legal reply appeared in the Federal Register and contains Judge Dawson's argument in favor of boarding schools having authority over Native children and families.
Date created 1887
Repository Alaska State Archives, Alaska State Library
Citation Lafayette Dawson, "In re Petition of Can-ah-couqua for habeas corpus," 29 Federal Register (D. Alaska 1887), pp. 687-690.
Online access Verdict and legal reply to Can-ah-couqua vs. John Kelly and A.E. Austin [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Page last updated 06/01/2021