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Timeline / Defining Rights and Responsibilities / 1915: Schools must keep children healthy, Commissioner states

1915: Schools must keep children healthy, Commissioner states

American Indian parents grow anxious about the safety of sending their children to government boarding schools, whether by choice or by government coercion. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Cato Sells, responds. He tells the Congress of Indian Progress, an organization dedicated to the social advancement of American Indians, that it is the schools’ “chief duty to protect … the health and constitution of Indian children.”

“There is something fundamental here: We cannot solve the Indian problem without Indians. We cannot educate their children unless they are kept alive.” —Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Cato Sells

Epidemics, Federal-Tribal Relations
Arctic, California, Great Basin, Great Plains, Northeast, Northwest Coast, Plateau, Southeast, Southwest, Subarctic

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Early twentieth-century Bureau of Indian Affairs school (on left) and U.S. Public Health Service hospital in Juneau, Alaska.

Courtesy Alaska State Library, Juneau-Schools-12, Alaska State Library Photograph Collection

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In this Catholic missionary boarding school, the crowded conditions of dormitory living created an environment where contagious diseases easily spread.

Courtesy Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries