Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories
Beginning in the 1870s, the US government attempted to educate and assimilate American Indians into “civilized” society by placing children—of all ages, from thousands of homes and hundreds of diverse tribes—in distant, residential boarding schools. Many were forcibly taken from their families and communities and stripped of all signs of “Indianness,” even forbidden to speak their own language amongst themselves. Up until the 1930s, students were trained for domestic work and trade in a highly regimented environment. Many children went years without familial contact, and these events had a lasting, generational impact.
Native Americans responded to the often tragic boarding school experience in complex and nuanced ways. Stories of student resistance, accommodation, creative resolve, devoted participation, escape, and faith in one’s self and heritage speak individually across eras. Some families, facing increasingly scarce resources due to land dispossession and a diminishing way of life at home, sent their children to boarding schools as a refuge from these realities. In the variety of reactions, Ojibwe historian Brenda Childs finds that the “boarding school experience was carried out in public, but had an intensely private dimension.”
Unintended outcomes, such as a sense of “Pan Indianism” and support networks, grew and flourished on campuses, and advocates demanded reform. Boarding schools were designed to remake American Indians but it was American Indians who changed the schools. After graduation, some students became involved in tribal political office or the formation of civil rights and Native sovereignty organizations. The handful of federal boarding schools remaining today embrace Indigenous heritage, languages, traditions, and culture.
This exhibition explores off-reservation boarding schools in its kaleidoscope of voices. Visitors will explore compelling photographs, artwork, interviews, interactive timelines, and immersive environments, including classroom and dormitory settings. Objects such as a period barber chair and a young Seminole girl’s skirt, as well as reproduction elements poignantly illuminate first-person accounts. Stories of tragedy and familial love and friendships intersect. Experiences of gaining things useful and beautiful out of education, despite a formidable, fifty-year agenda that mostly maligned Native American capabilities, call us closer; each trial, each turning of power seeded in human survival, strengthening Indigenous identity.
This exhibition was adapted from the permanent exhibition Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, organized by The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Both the original exhibit and this touring version were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories is touring from September 2020 through April 2025. Dates are subject to change; please contact us for current availability.
Contact: MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872, ext. 208
- September 1–October 20, 2020 Mid-America All-Indian Center
Wichita, KS booked
- January 28–March 16, 2021 Irving Archives and Museum
Irving, TX booked
- April 6–May 25, 2021 Clatsop County Historical Society
Astoria, OR booked
- June 16–August 11, 2021 Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art
Scranton, PA booked
- September 1–October 20, 2021 Dennos Museum Center
Traverse City, MI booked
- November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022 Tomaquag Museum
Exeter, RI booked
- January 28–March 16, 2022 James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
St. Petersburg, FL booked
- April 6–May 25, 2022 Goodhue County Historical Society
Red Wing, MN booked
- June 16–August 11, 2022 Manitowoc Public Library
Manitowoc, WI booked
- September 1–October 20, 2022 Mountain Heritage Center
Cullowhee, NC booked
- November 10, 2022–January 7, 2023 El Paso Museum of History
El Paso, TX booked
- January 28–March 16, 2023 Johnson County Museum
Overland Park, KS booked
- April 6–May 25, 2023 Autry Museum of the American West
Los Angeles, CA booked
- June 16–August 11, 2023 Louisiana Old State Capitol
Baton Rouge, LA booked
- September 1–October 20, 2023 Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center
Enid, OK booked
- November 10, 2023–January 7, 2024 Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County
Moorhead, MN booked
- January 28–March 16, 2024 Tarrant County Community College
Hurst, TX booked
- April 6–May 25, 2024 Idaho State Historical Society
Boise, ID booked
- June 16–August 11, 2024 Sutter County Museum
Yuba City, CA booked
- September 1–October 20, 2024 Upcountry History Museum
Greenville, SC booked
- November 10, 2024–January 7, 2025 Chandler Museum
Chandler, AZ booked
- January 28–March 16, 2025 Aurora Univeristy
Aurora, IL booked
Exhibition Details & Specifications
Janet Cantley, curator, Heard Museum
Organized ByHeard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
The exhibition will feature several freestanding units focused on thematic areas; a collection of objects, artifacts, photographs, and paper ephemera; audio/video features; interactive elements; semi-immersive environment settings; and wall-mounted banners and graphics.
On-site support is free to the opening venue for every new NEH on the Road exhibition and to first-time hosting venues on a limited basis.
Expense covered by NEH on the Road. Exhibitor will coordinate with NEH on the Road's registrar for all outgoing transportation arrangements.
Approximately 2,000 square feet
Number of Crates/Total Weight
The exhibition is fully insured by NEH on the Road at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.