A history of the Flandreau Indian school


The boarding school opened in 1893 with four buildings, twelve staff and a total of ninety-eight students. After that, the campus grew rapidly. By 1939, it expanded to encompass several buildings, some fifty teachers as well as other supervisory and maintenance employees, and a peak enrollment of 563 students with a housing capacity of 500. Over in the early years, it was difficult to enroll enough students to fill, but by 1897, 226 students were enrolled with room for only 170. Every now and then Congress would allocate money to increase capacity, but the expansion of the physical plant and staff generally lagged behind demand during the first half of 1900, resulting in the refusal of many student requests each year. Since peak enrollment in 1939, the number of students on campus has fluctuated between 400 and sometimes over 500. In the decade before 1970, it averaged around 500. Students at that time were coming. mainly from ten contiguous states and over thirty tribes.

After 1970, enrollment began to decline and at times varied greatly from year to year. Much uncertainty about the possible school closure has surfaced from time to time as federal Indian policy has been reviewed and revised. Many off-reservation boarding schools were closed from 1940 and continued into the 1940s and 1950s. One example is the boarding school that was opened in 1893 in Pipestone, Minnesota for school-aged children. It was closed in 1953.

Efforts to close the Flandreau school were made periodically, most recently in 1982, but all were successfully repelled. Residents of the local community, as well as tribes and alumni from across the country, have expressed support for the continuation of the school in Flandreau. The uncertainty of his future, however, undoubtedly had a negative effect on schooling. It appears to have stabilized in recent years as enrollment averaged around 320 students from 2009 to 2018.


During the first two decades (1893-1918), education at the new boarding school was only offered for grades 1 to 8. Even kindergarten classes were available until 1901. Due to low enrollment in the during the first years, the younger classes were gradually phased out. However, in 1913, grades 9 and 10 were added, which coincided with the development of a two-year agriculture course for students who wanted to continue their education and training. Later, over the next ten years, two more years were added, allowing a total of four years of agricultural education. In 1931, grades 1-8 were dropped, academic course offerings were expanded, and the school became an accredited four-year high school (which it continues to be).

Indian education policy at the time was to “make people less dependent on the federal government.” The most experienced route proposed was vocational training in agriculture, manual trades and domestic tasks. Therefore, boarding schools generally taught farming methods, trades and domestic activities.

In 1934, FIS courses for girls offered by the Department of Home Economics included commercial sewing, laundry, and cooking. Other departments offered native arts, library work, bookbinding, and home nursing. In 1936, cosmetology was added and eventually accredited by the state, allowing those who successfully complete the courses to obtain a license. University courses were expanded and others added to the curriculum during the first half of the 20th century, but Home Making I, II and III and other home management courses continued to be required of all girls. These courses covered food, general health and nutrition, child care and training, clothing selection and maintenance, construction, budgeting and consumer purchasing.

For the boys of the FIS, from the beginning until around 1920, sewing was offered. From 1901 to 1936, shoemaking and harness making courses were given. From around 1924 a manual arts department was opened and operated with courses in carpentry, carpentry and mechanical drawing. By 1934, courses were offered in baking, auto mechanics, barbering, leatherworking, metallurgy, painting, electrical, masonry, and plumbing. The students were used for much of the needs of the campus for the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings.

The school began with 160 acres of land purchased in 1892. It added 320 acres in 1898 to increase crop production, then reduced it by selling about 400 acres in the late 1950s. In 1955, President Eisenhower ordered that any commercial activity carried on by the residential schools “to provide a service or a product for its own use if such a product or service can be obtained from a private company …” be terminated. As a result, FIS withdrew from the farm shortly thereafter. Prior to that, for many decades, agriculture-related trades had top priority at FIS and other residential schools. Education and practical experience were offered in the fields of agriculture, gardening, dairy farming, as well as pig and poultry production. Boys enrolled in agricultural training spent half of their training in actual farming practice, and by 1934 about six hundred acres of land were in use by the agricultural department. Agricultural production included corn, oats, wheat, potatoes and vegetables. Animal production consisted mainly of pigs and dairy products. Hogs raised were slaughtered and cows produced a record 100 pounds of milk per day in 1934, much of which was consumed on campus. Any surplus agricultural production was sold to help cover operating expenses.

Although vocational education was cut back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it has since resurfaced as a valuable part of the curriculum. In addition, native studies, college preparation courses in cooperation with South Dakota State University, athletics, Junior ROTC, industrial arts and fine arts are currently offered. . The academic department requires students to take courses in math, English, science, social studies, government, and history. As you might expect, tribal government and Native American history are included.

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