Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School

Rich-Heape Films, Dallas, 2008, on hi-definition DVD, 80-minute documentary, $29.95.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded in Pennsylvania in 1879 by Captain Richard Henry Pratt, was the model for at least two dozen similar schools before the turn of the century. Their collective mission: to make Indian children more like white children. The students were forced to give up their native cultures. Pratt’s stated philosophy was, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” and for more than 100 years many Indians were taken from their homes and subjected to forcible assimilation at boarding schools.

The film includes moving interviews with former students at Carlisle and other schools. One of those interviewed is weepy-eyed Andrew Windy Boy, a Chippewa/Cree who attended boarding schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was the inspiration for this film by Steven R. Heape, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Windy Boy and others interviewed consider themselves “survivors,” and indeed what they went through was difficult and often cruel (no matter how well intentioned their teachers might have been). Gayle Ross, great-granddaughter of Cherokee Chief John Ross, makes a fine host and narrator, and the academic experts are usually insightful.


Originally published in the October 2008 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.