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American Indian Boarding School Archives Workshop

Picture of Tom Torlino, Navajo, as he entered the Carlisle Indian School in 1882. He is dressed in traditional garb, has long hair, and has a dark skin tone. Next to that figure is another picture of Tom three years later with short hair and a light tone.
"Tom Torlino - Navajo. As he entered the
[Carlisle Indian] school in 1882.  
As he appeared three years later."

WVU’s Native American Studies Program & University Libraries are offering an archives workshop for  West Virginia librarians and educators August 5-6, 2021 on the downtown WVU campus. The workshop aims to improve awareness of historic American Indian boarding schools, their role in the U.S. government’s numerous Indian assimilation policies, and the schools’ complex legacies within present-day American Indian tribes and families. Attendees will hear from a wide range of presenters and get hands-on instruction in researching digitally archived primary sources. Seating is limited and advanced registration is required.

Register for the workshop.

NAS Program Coordinator Bonnie Brown will co-direct the workshop with WVU cultural studies librarian Beth Toren, who will lead a session highlighting digitized archives and primary source sets for teaching and research in Native American Studies.

The workshop, in the planning stages since 2020, comes at a time of increased international attention on historic mistreatment of Indigenous boarding school students. Brown pointed out that U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Debra Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), the first Native American to hold a presidential cabinet position, just announced a federal initiative to address the harmful intergenerational impact of these residential schools. “We must uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of the schools,” said the Secretary. Brown indicated Haaland’s announcement coincides with research at Canadian schoolgrounds revealing more than a thousand unmarked graves of Indigenous children. The remains of some of the nearly 200 students  who died more than a century ago at the Carlisle (PA) Indian Industrial School are going  home to their tribal nations this summer. This formal repatriation p rocess, regarded as both a sovereign right and sacred duty, has been ongoing at Carlisle for the past several years. 

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and Sandra Cianciulli (Oglala Lakota), Native Rights Advocate and Director of the Carlisle Indian School Project.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior 
Deb Haaland (left) and 
Sandra Cianciulli (right).

Workshop presenter Sandra Cianciulli (Oglala Lakota), is a Native rights advocate whose ancestors were among the first students to attend the Carlisle School. She is president of the Board of Directors of the Carlisle Indian School Project, which is dedicated to public education. Cianciulli’s remarks will focus on the CISP, “Our children were treated poorly 150 years ago because they had no political power. The horrific evidence of those failed policies is a constant reminder that we are still in a fight now.”

Presenter Boe Nakakakena Harris (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), is the daughter of a boarding school attendee who said her family suffered as a result of her father’s school-related trauma, “I can attest to the enduring impact of his experiences--I’m just one voice sharing stories from among generations of survivors.” Both presenters are longtime associates of the NAS Program who have guest-lectured and consulted over the years.

Additional presenters include experts from Dickinson College’s Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, home to thousands of digitized CIS records. The Center offers opportunities to develop teaching and learning materials as well as original scholarly and popular works. Susan Rose, Dickinson College Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology and Director of the Mosaic Programs, James Gerencser of Dickinson College’s Waidner-Spahr Library - Archives & Special Collections, and Barbara Landis, Cumberland County (PA) Historical Society - Archives and Library Specialist will lead workshop sessions.

WVU Professor of English Cari Carpenter, a member of the NAS Program Committee who developed a course on Carlisle School Legacies, will discuss teaching about Carlisle and other boarding schools, especially within the current political context. She will share course materials, including effective literature, exercises, pedagogical resources, and information about class visits to Carlisle.

Rare Books and Printed Resources Curator Stewart Plein and her colleagues at the West Virginia and Regional History Collection will offer tours and display relevant items from the Collection. NAS 2021 Outstanding Senior and student historian Riley Bowers will serve as a workshop assistant.

Presentation titles include: “Piecing Together the Stories of Carlisle Indian: Oral History and Digital Archives;” "Navigating and Understanding the Documentation of the Carlisle Indian School and the Bureau of Indian Affairs;" "Howard Gansworth's 'My First Days at Carlisle,' an account of a Carlisle student's memoir;” “Reflections from the Daughter of a Boarding School Student: journey to truth, understanding, and healing;” and "Lost Indian Treasure - Our Side of History." Screenings and discussion of two documentary films, “The Lost Ones” and “The Thick Dark Fog” are also planned.

Registration for the two-day workshop is available here. Please visit to learn more about the Program for Native American Studies at WVU and to register for future events. Per WVU policy, unvaccinated people  are expected to wear a mask inside all University facilities, as well as outdoors when they are around other people.

The workshop is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.