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Exploring Gender Roles and Indigenous Boarding Schools in America

On Thursday, February 28th, Melissa Beard-Jacob gave a presentation about the Indigenous boarding school system in the United States and its impact on Native American conceptions of gender roles. The last boarding school closed in 1996, and they were especially prevalent during the Great Depression. In the beginning, many children were forcefully removed from their parents in their homes, but as time went on, some Indigenous people began sending their kids to boarding schools as the only way out of economic stagnation and poverty. Melissa, who is Ojibwe, focused particularly on Mt. Pleasant, a boarding school in Michigan. She discussed how the boys had a much larger area on campus open to them, and girls did much of the work of running the schools- like laundry and cooking. These Euro-American ideas about women taking cooking/sewing, and men taking hunting/intellectual classes were communicated to native people through the institution.

One skill that Melissa mentioned was very helpful to women who came from boarding schools was sewing. Many girls who went to school were able to use their sewing/crocheting skills to economically support themselves after leaving the schools.

This event was captivating and generated a lot of questions among our attendees. Anyone interested in learning more about the Native American community can do them a service by consuming Native American news sources and by having discussions about issues affecting Indigenous people, historically and now. Thank you so much to Melissa Beard-Jacob for generously presenting and telling us some anecdotes about her family history! Also, thank you to anyone who came to learn!

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