The Holy Family Mission opened in 1890 on
the Two Medicine River. It was a Catholic boarding school operated by the Jesuit Order. The mission maintained an enrollment of
100 students with the course of study one half day academic and one half day vocational. It was a self-sufficient school
operating for grades one through eight and served the Blackfeet for 50 years.
To many, the missionary boarding schools used religion as the tool to "civilize" the indigenous children. The idea was that if the natural spirituality of the children was destroyed and replaced through the religious indoctrination of Christianity, not only would the child be saved intellectually, but also spiritually.
The goal of Indian education and these schools from the 1880s through the 1920s was to assimilate Indian people into the melting pot of America by placing them in institutions where traditional ways could be replaced by those sanctioned by the government.
Federal Indian policy called for the removal of children from their families and in many cases enrollment in a government or religiously run boarding school.
In this way, the policy makers believed, young people would be immersed in the values and practical knowledge of the dominant American society while also being kept away from any influences imparted by their traditionally-minded relatives.
At missionary run schools, traditional religious and cultural practices were strongly discouraged while instruction in the Christian doctrines took place utilizing pictures, statues, hymns, prayers and storytelling.
Many of the problems now prevalent in Indian country, problems that are slowly starting to mend with the return of so many to traditional forms of education and spirituality, can be traced directly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and missionary boarding schools and the historical trauma that was experienced by those who were forced to attend.
The Holy Family Mission (pgs. 50-51) was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on June 14, 1982 and is located about 15 miles east of Browning off Highway 89 on the Two Medicine.
This area is located on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation which covers most of Glacier County, Montana. Today all that remains of the missionary boarding school is the renovated church, the Holy Family Mission, where locals and visitors alike attend mass on Sunday mornings.
Sioux writer and activist Zitkala-Sa (1876-1938), who wrote American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings was born in the year of the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn--her people's last victory over the invasion forces that would soon force them onto reservations, on one of which she grew up under a regime of forced assimilation.
Zitkala-Sa struggled with the conflicting influences of American-Indian and white culture throughout her life. Raised on a Sioux reservation, she attended boarding schools that enforced assimilation and was witness to major events in white-Indian relations in the late 1800s and early 1900s.