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A brief timeline of Pacific Northwest boarding schools

The Tulalip Indian School had roots as a Catholic mission founded in 1857. Its history is intertwined with the Tulalip Reservation.

1792. Snohomish tribes meet explorer Captain George Vancouver.

March 3, 1819. U.S. Congress passes the Civilization Fund Act to provide “against the further decline and final extinction of the Indian tribes.” It tasks “persons of good moral character” to instruct Native Americans “in the mode of agriculture suited to their situation; and for teaching their children in reading, writing and arithmetic.”

May 11, 1847. Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, a French priest, embarks on a “2,000-mile journey from Westport, Kansas, to Walla Walla, following the Oregon Trail.”

1853. Settlers build a sawmill at Tulalip Bay.

Jan. 22, 1855. The Treaty of Point Elliott, signed at what is now Mukilteo, cedes Native ancestral lands to the United States and creates reservations. Among promises to the tribes: a physician, hunting and fishing rights, and an “agricultural and industrial school, to be free to children of the said tribes and bands.” Dozens of Native Americans sign with an X.

1857. Chirouse asks permission of the Snohomish chief, Ns’ski-oos, to live among the tribes. He’s given a spot to build a house near the mouth of Quil Ceda Creek, where he establishes the first mission school. The campus moves the following year, according to local historian Les Parks.

1860. An early Native American boarding school is built on the Yakima Indian Reservation. At Tulalip, more than 200 Indians have settled near Father Chirouse. He has 15 students.

Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

1861. Snohomish County is founded. Chirouse’s school of St. Anne’s grows. The priest offers free food, clothing and education. But he lacks funding. The priests and students clear four acres of land at Tulalip. They build cabins and a mission church. The school campus moves again to Mission Beach, where it remains for four decades.

1866. Chirouse’s pupils decrease from 48 to 35. He writes: “Sickness has prevailed to a very great extent among the Indians of the Sound and I am sorry to say that my pupils have suffered much more than heretofore. … As there is no doctor on the reservation, they still continue to apply to me for medicine, believing my stock inexhaustible.”

1868. Catholic fathers have baptized 3,811 people in the region. The Sisters of Charity begin educating Indian girls on the Tulalip Reservation.

1869. Chirouse receives financial support from the U.S. government for the Tulalip Mission School of St. Anne. It’s the first Native American boarding school with a government contract in the country.

1870s. Other small boarding schools begin to pop up on the Chehalis, Skokomish and Makah reservations, but all of these close by 1896.

1878. Chirouse’s superiors transfer him to British Columbia. Rev. John Baptiste Boulet becomes the resident priest at Tulalip and leader of the boarding school.

Soon after Father Eugene Chirouse started a school for boys on Tulalip Bay, the Sisters of Providence opened a school for girls. Pictured here in an undated photo, two nuns stand with over two dozen students on the steps of their Tulalip mission. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

Soon after Father Eugene Chirouse started a school for boys on Tulalip Bay, the Sisters of Providence opened a school for girls. Pictured here in an undated photo, two nuns stand with over two dozen students on the steps of their Tulalip mission. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

1879. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School opens in Pennsylvania, forcing students to speak English and adopt the culture of settlers. Its founder’s famous motto is to “kill the Indian” and “save the Man.”

1880. Chemawa Indian School is built at Forest Grove, Oregon, with the help of Puyallup Indian boys. Students are taught “blacksmithing, shoe making, carpentering, wagon making, girl’s industries and advancement in studies,” according to a Willamette University history of the school.

1881. A report from the Bureau of Indian Affairs declares: “The Indian is evidently destined to live as long as the white race, or until he becomes absorbed and assimilated with his pale brethren. We hear no longer advocated among really civilized men the theory of extermination, a theory that would disgrace the wildest savage. … The only alternative left is to fit him by education for civilized life.”

1887. Chemawa, now moved to a new campus on donated land outside Salem, Oregon, grows to 202 students, according to one report.

Nov. 11, 1889. Washington becomes the 42nd state.

May 28, 1892. Father Chirouse suffers a fatal stroke. He’s buried on the banks of the Fraser River.

1896. Congress begins withdrawing federal support of religious boarding schools, cutting financial support to the Tulalip Mission School.

1900. The federal government begins running the boarding school at Tulalip, ushering in an era of greater cultural repression. Meanwhile, smallpox, pneumonia and tuberculosis outbreaks come in waves, claiming many lives.

July 1901. Dr. Charles M. Buchanan is named superintendent at the federal Tulalip Indian School.

Charles Milton Buchanan arrived in Tulalip in 1894, first serving as the reservation’s sole physician. He became the first superintendent of the Tulalip Indian School. He served as a federal liaison until his death in 1920. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

Charles Milton Buchanan arrived in Tulalip in 1894, first serving as the reservation’s sole physician. He became the first superintendent of the Tulalip Indian School. He served as a federal liaison until his death in 1920. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

1902. Six buildings at St. Anne’s mission are destroyed by fire in March. The Mission Beach campus is abandoned and a new federal school is swiftly built near Tulalip Creek.

1904. The Tulalip school has 140 students, according to a school roster.

1905. Tulalip enrollment increases to 147. In the years that follow, the annual count shrinks: 134, 124, 117.

1906. “Dr. Buchanan is determined to make the Tulalip training school the Carlisle of the West,” according to a Seattle newspaper report.

1911. Chemawa’s superintendent, Edwin Chalcraft, is charged with abusing students and forcing students to abuse each other.

1912. Buchanan notes in his journal on May 23 in Tulalip: “Measles epidemic about reached its highest point with fifty or more pupils down with some in hospital.”

1913. Charles Larsen, a former Chemawa student who later becomes a historian of his alma mater, is transferred from Chemawa to Tulalip, where his official job title is “disciplinarian.” “My duties at Tulalip were similar to the duties while at Chemawa, but on a smaller scale,” Larsen writes. “… Dr. Charles M. Buchanan was a strict man — too strict so many people thought but I got along with him and got a recommendation from him for an increase in salary — which was a rare action so I was informed. In addition to the discipline work I had to teach band.”

1915. Charles Larsen is transferred from Tulalip to the Cushman Indian School in Tacoma, with the same job title. Also known as the Puyallup Indian School, the institution is later converted into the Cushman Indian Hospital, where forced assimilation continues.

1920. Buchanan dies.

1924. Native Americans are granted citizenship and can vote under the Indian Citizenship Act.

1926. Rosemary Fryberg starts attending the Tulalip Indian School. Months later, she’s shuttled to Pyramid Lake Sanitorium in Nevada. She later returns to Tulalip. At the peak of the boarding school era, nearly 1,000 students are enrolled at Chemawa.

1928. The Meriam Report, or “The Problem of Indian Administration,” details rampant abuses in boarding schools, as well as “deplorable health conditions,” “crowded dormitories” and the “almost complete negation of normal family life.”

1932. The federal Tulalip Indian School closes. Rose Fryberg is sent to Chemawa.

1934. Congress passes the Indian Reorganization Act, allowing tribes to elect leaders for their own governments.

1940s. Stan Jones, a survivor of the Cushman Indian Hospital in Tacoma, becomes one of 44,000 Native Americans to serve in World War II.

1946. Harriette Shelton Dover, a Tulalip Indian School survivor who fought to keep Native traditions alive, becomes the tribes’ first chairwoman.

Harriette Shelton Dover, a survivor of the federal boarding school for Indigenous children in Tulalip, was credited with restoring the annual Salmon Ceremony and fighting for fishing rights. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

Harriette Shelton Dover, a survivor of the federal boarding school for Indigenous children in Tulalip, was credited with restoring the annual Salmon Ceremony and fighting for fishing rights. (Courtesy of Hibulb Cultural Center)

1966. Shelton Dover recruits Stan Jones to run for the Tulalip board of directors. Jones goes on to serve for 44 years, much of that time as tribal chair, ultimately leaving a legacy akin to a “congressman, a senator or a president.”

1973. A Chemawa school report says: “More than 30,000 students have passed through her doors, in some cases three generations of the same family. This school has singlehandedly been responsible for most of the Indian education of the Northwest Tribes and Alaskan natives.”

1975. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, sponsored by U.S. Senator Henry M. Jackson, of Everett, grants tribes the right to run their own schools, with the aim of ending “federal domination of Indian service programs.”

1976. The Tulalip Tribes revive the annual Salmon Ceremony.

1978. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act protects Native Americans’ traditional practices.

1990. Congress passes the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, granting special protections to Indigenous burial sites and remains.

May 2022. A year after launching an official inquiry into the history boarding schools, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announces the initial findings in a 106-page report. A U.S. House committee hears testimony from Deborah Parker, a descendent of Tulalip boarding school survivors, and Matthew War Bonnet, a South Dakota boarding school survivor living in Snohomish.

Federal Indian boarding school sites identified in Washington. (U.S. Department of the Interior)

Federal Indian boarding school sites identified in Washington. (U.S. Department of the Interior)

Sources: HistoryLink.com; the Hibulb Cultural Center; a chronology of the Tulalip Tribes; research by historians Betty Lou Gaeng, Sister Dorothy Lentz and Carolyn Marr; diaries of Father Eugene Casimir Chirouse, Dr. Charles Buchanan and Charles Larsen; and other primary documents.

Read the rest of this series, Tulalip’s Stolen Children.

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