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Orange Shirt Day and Residential Schools for Native Children in the U.S.

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Last year, the Canadian government passed legislation to create the federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation– which is on September 30, the same day as Orange Shirt Day. Both anniversary dates commemorate the experiences of survivors of Canadian residential schools for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children. Orange Shirt Day, created by former residential school survivors, long predates the Canadian federal holiday.

As devastating as the Canadian residential school program was, it was modeled on an earlier program launched in the United States. The United States’ Carlisle Indian School is probably the best known boarding school for Indigenous children, and it was founded by Richard Henry Pratt, who also initiated and implemented the Federal government’s “Kill the Indian, save the man” policy. Carlisle is probably the best-known boarding school; however, there were 408 residential schools for Indigenous children in the United States, operating from 1860 through the early 1970s (list here). Prior to the 1980s, most of the U.S. boarding schools created equally devastating consequences for the children living there.

When Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir announced on May 27, 2021, the detection of mass graves at Kamloops Residential School, and First Nations governments announced a spate of similar discoveries at Marieval, Kuper Island, Kootenay Island, and others, it opened up conversations on a national scale about U.S. residential schools for Indigenous children.

Map of the United States with blue dots marking all of the Federal Indian Boarding School Sites
            Federal Indian Boarding School Sites map / Department of the Interior. * see disclaimer

After the news of the Kamloops discoveries broke, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced in the following month—June 2021— that the Department of the Interior would “undertake an investigation of the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools.” This investigation, the beginning of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, examined the deaths at residential schools, and the inter-generational impact of the schools. The report identifies approximately 53 different boarding schools that contain marked and unmarked graves. As noted in the report, this investigation is the first time the United States has examined the effects of its cultural assimilation policies on Indigenous peoples.

The Department of the Interior issued its first investigative report on the initiative, and found that “Indian child removal coincided with Indian territorial dispossession.” The report also addresses the impact of Indian boarding schools. As many experts have noted, the residential schools program created inter-generational trauma. The investigation continues and so does the work to heal the survivors and the families of the school attendees. As Secretary Haaland notes, “While we cannot change that history… our nation will benefit from a full understanding of the truth of what took place and a focus on healing the wounds of the past.”


E97.5.A35 2020 Adams D. W. Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience, 1875–1928.

E97.5.A93 2004 Away from home : American Indian boarding school experiences, 1879-2000 / edited by Margaret L. Archuleta, Brenda J. Child, and K. Tsianina Lomawaima.

PN4883.G75 2019 Griffith, Jane. Words have a past: the English language, colonialism, and the newspapers of Indian boarding schools.

HV745.A6 C66 2017  Contemporary issues in child welfare: American Indian and Canadian Aboriginal contexts / edited by J. Dena Ned, Ph.D., Caren J. Frost, Ph.D.

E96.W66 2015 Woolford, Andrew John. This benevolent experiment: indigenous boarding schools, genocide, and redress in Canada and the United States.

E97.C57 2004 Churchill, Ward. Kill the Indian, save the man: the genocidal impact of American Indian residential schools.

E97.6.C2 W57 1993 Witmer, Linda F. The Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1879-1918.

E97.6.C24 W55 2022 Williams, Samantha M. Assimilation, resilience, and survival: a history of the Stewart Indian School, 1890-2020.

E97.6.S54 W53 2016 Whalen, Kevin. Native students at work : American Indian labor and Sherman Institute’s Outing Program, 1900-1945.

KF26.5.I4 1982a United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Indian Affairs. Closing of off-reservation boarding schools : hearing before the Select Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, Ninety-seventh Congress, second session, on the Bureau of Indian Affairs proposal to close three off-reservation boarding schools, February 24, 1982. Washington, D.C.

*DOI’s map disclaimer:The content of this document may be disturbing or distressing. This version of this document is being made available to the public for informational purposes only. The information in it is subject to change or revision. While DOI strives to make the information in this version of this document as accurate as possible, DOI makes no claims, assurances, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of its contents. DOI gives no warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, with respect to its contents. DOI expressly disclaims liability for errors or omissions in the content of this version of this document or for any use of, or reliance on, its content by any person.”

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