In June 2021, newspapers began to report on the rediscovery of mass graves at First Nations boarding school sites across Canada. This sparked a global flurry of interest in the history of Indigenous boarding schools in North America, as nations and individuals confronted a genocidal history that was both long known and yet long unaddressed.
On June 22, 2021, United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland directed her department to conduct an investigation of U.S. sites. The resulting Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report identified 408 Federally-supported schools opened in the United States between 1801 and 1969.
This environment inspired our graduate essay contest winner, Travis J. Jimenez, to delve deeper into the history of Native American boarding schools in Colorado in his essay, “Identifying Colorado Indian Boarding Schools After the Discovery of the Unmarked Graves of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.”
Jimenez used photographs from the DPL Digital Collections to bring life and imagination to the experiences of Native American youths in Colorado. The photographs in our digital collections act as both evidence and lenses through which to view the residential school facilities that were developed to contain and destroy Indigenous cultures.
Five boarding schools are typically identified as having been located in Colorado, though recent research is considering as many as 10 relevant institutions. The most commonly discussed are Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School located near the modern Fort Lewis College campus and Teller Indian School in Grand Junction. Rounding out the five were the Southern Ute Boarding School (Ignacio), the Good Shepherd Industrial School (Denver), and the Ute Mountain Boarding School (Towaoc).
In May 2022, Colorado created its own research program via HOUSE BILL 22-1327. It tasked History Colorado, the state’s historical society,
“to research and make recommendations to promote Coloradans' understanding of the physical and emotional abuse and deaths that occurred at federal Indian boarding schools in Colorado, including the victimization of families of youth forced to attend the boarding schools and the intergenerational impacts of the abuse.”