"Burich’s book fills a glaring gap in the fields of Indian education and Haudenosaunee history. It is accessible for undergraduate students and will add significantly to classroom explorations of Indian education by including state-mandated education in discussions that usually revolve around the Carlisle Industrial School and the federal system."—Holly Rine, associate professor of history, Le Moyne College
"Burich’s exhaustive history significantly contributes to the history of settler colonial schooling by documenting a distinctively different kind of Indian School: non-federal, state run, horrifically committed to the idea of the “irredeemable” Indian child."—K. Tsianina Lomawaima, professor of Indigenous education, School of Social Transformation, Arizona State University
"Written by an historian who knows the craft of telling a good story, Burich’s book offers a new interpretative angle to the growing literature on Indian boarding school studies, and makes a wonderful contribution to the history of American Indian education."—Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, associate professor of history, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Burich's research brings to light an important dimension of American and Native American history, reminding us that, as bad as boarding schools and orphanages were, they attempted to address real and awful conditions among Native peoples (conditions, admittedly, created by the settler state)….a valuable and accessible investigation that could and should be read by academics, students, and the general public."—David Eller, Anthropology Review Database
"Founded in 1855 by Presbyterian missionaries on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation in western New York, Thomas Indian School was taken over by the state in 1875 and closed in 1957. During its existence, it served 2,470 students who came from families living in dire poverty all over the state. Settler colonialism and associated land loss severely disrupted Iroquois culture, leading to many dysfunctional families unable to adequately care for their children. This poorly funded boarding school used its half-day vocational program to help maintain the school and feed and clothe the students. Discipline at the school was sometimes harsh, and there were many runaways. Racial prejudice and the lack of anything Indian in the curriculum led to students coming away with the idea there was something wrong with being Indian. Most students leaving Thomas were prepared to take only menial jobs, at best, and there was no social worker at the school until the 1940s, leading to new generations of destitute children. Indian parents circulated petitions that helped lead to the school’s closure. Throughout this interesting study, Burich (history, Canisius College) draws parallels with federally operated Indian schools of the time."—CHOICE
"Burich helps enlighten us on the experiences of the children who attended the Thomas Indian School. Included in his book are anecdotes from the children or inmates as they were referred to as, explaining at a personal level the many challenges they were facing."—Brian Rice, University of Winnipeg, Iroquoia
The story of the Thomas Indian School has been overlooked by history and historians even though it predated, lasted longer, and affected a larger number of Indian children than most of the more well-known federal boarding schools. Founded by the Presbyterian missionaries on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation in western New York, the Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children, as it was formally named, shared many of the characteristics of the government-operated Indian schools. However, its students were driven to its doors not by Indian agents, but by desperation. Forcibly removed from their land, Iroquois families suffered from poverty, disease, and disruptions in their traditional ways of life, leaving behind many abandoned children.
The story of the Thomas Indian School is the story of the Iroquois people and the suffering and despair of the children who found themselves trapped in an institution from which there was little chance for escape. Although the school began as a refuge for children, it also served as a mechanism for “civilizing” and converting native children to Christianity. As the school’s population swelled and financial support dried up, the founders were forced to turn the school over to the state of New York. Under the State Board of Charities, children were subjected to prejudice, poor treatment, and long-term institutionalization, resulting in alienation from their families and cultures. In this harrowing yet essential book, Burich offers new and important insights into the role and nature of boarding schools and their destructive effect on generations of indigenous populations.
Keith R. Burich is professor of history at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.
Series: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors
6 x 9, 224 pages, 3 black and white illustrations