Anishinaabe children were one group among nearly every Native American nation in the United States and Canada to experience the trauma of being forced to attend boarding school. A concerted effort on the part of both the government and churches to further break down the traditional structure of Native life, kids taken from family homes and put into the boarding school system were commonly subject to forced language and culture loss, as well as physical and sexual abuse.
The boarding school system for Native children continued well into the 20th century, reaching its peak in the 1970s. Many of the schools were little more than underfunded, unsupervised work camps intended to turn Indian children into servile American adults.
This second image is intended to be a portrait of a group of supposedly freshly-arrived Dakota boys to St. John’s Abbey boarding school in Collegeville, Minnesota, circa 1887. Before and after images of Indian children were de rigeur at boarding schools as a means of showing the “progress” Native students made to donors and the general Euro-American population. A closer look at what the boys are wearing – “feather bonnets” composed of rags, random blankets, and slap-dash face paint - however, show this photo to be entirely manufactured. The darkened, blank background the photo has been staged in further alludes to the boys’ emergence from a savage, unformed state.
The “after” shot depicts the boys with their hair shorn and stripped of their Native attire. The painted, classical Western background and brighter source of light indicates the boys’ emergence into enlightenment due to the boarding school and the Church’s intervention.