Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Education


Tradition to Acculturation: a Case Study of the Impacts created by Chemawa Indian Boarding School upon the Nez Perce Family Structure from 1879 to 1945

As a member of the Nez Perce Tribe, I have developed an interest in education of Native Americans and in particular those students who attended Chemawa Indian Government Boarding School from 1879 to 1940. For many centuries, the Nez Perce have played an integral role in the history of the American Indian Columbia River plateau people, as well as, in the history of the United States. As Manifest Destiny spread across the western frontier, there was a tremendous amount of pressure to adapt to a new white culture and to become a part of mainstream society, although the Nez Perce maintained their relatively nomadic and traditional lifestyle. As time progressed, the United States government realized the tribes were not going to fully relinquish this traditional way of life. As a result, the government developed a policy recognizing the only way to fully convert the American Indian children into mainstream society was to remove them from parental control for a period of time in order to educate and assimilate them in the white mainstream culture. Although complete assimilation would never fully be realized while the children remained in their family homes. The United States developed an educational policy to remove the children from the reservation and place them in off-reservation government boarding schools.

One such government off-reservation boarding school was Forest Grove Indian Boarding School, originally located in Forest Grove, Oregon, until a fire forced the relocation of the school to its present day site in Chemawa, Oregon. The new school then became known as Chemawa Indian Boarding School. Although the Nez Perce Reservation is located approximately 401 miles from Chemawa, the children were removed from the reservation, often by force, and sent to Chemawa via train. Once at the school, the children's long braided hair was cut, their traditional clothing burned, and they were forced to wear military uniforms. They had to adapt to a new lifestyle and learn how to begin living in a world that they never knew existed with a new appearance similar to those in mainstream society. This presented numerous obstacles for the Nez Perce children. Learning how to socially interact with new tribal people, marching to and from all meals and classes, learning new skills and trades, some of which did not exist on the reservation became the routine for these new government boarding school students.

There is an increasing need to tell the stories of the children and families of the Nez Perce whose children were either removed to or sent by other means to Chemawa Indian Boarding School. There is a great deal of information yet to be explored at NARA in Seattle, Washington, and being able to tell the story of the Nez People as they learned how to assimilate and were forced to become educated citizens. As important stories, they should be told by someone who is familiar with the subject and who has the traditional knowledge of the People. Currently, the Nez Perce Tribe has not conducted any studies on the impacts of Chemawa and how it impacted the tribal membership. This type of documentation does not currently exist; however, I believe it is appropriate to begin researching these types of personal family stories and begin to tell of how our Nez Perce families attended Chemawa and under what circumstances. It is not only important to me, but to an entire tribe of Nez Perce who need to begin to understand their family histories and how forced government education has impacted the lives of the Nez Perce family today.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.