Native American Heritage

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Bureau of Indian Affairs School Records: Student Case Files

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The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has operated schools for American Indian and Alaska Native students since the early 1800s. These schools were a pivotal part of the federal government's policies for assimilating Native Americans.

Records of many students who attended BIA schools are now at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Record Group 75. These records are held at different NARA research facilities depending on the state in which the school was located.




Records Overview

Non-Reservation Boarding Schools

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Excerpt from the 1949 edition of Taheta, Mount Edgecumbe Boarding School’s student-produced yearbook (National Archives Identifier: 26434621)

While many Native American students attended day schools, boarding schools, and mission schools located on their own reservations, beginning in the 1880s the BIA established non-reservation boarding schools for vocational education. These schools enrolled students from many different tribes located throughout the United States. Academic classes were offered for the primary grades through high school. Advanced students chose vocational training such as agriculture, masonry, carpentry, leatherworking, blacksmithing, printing, homemaking, sewing, cooking, and, in later years, plumbing, electrical work, welding, mechanics, food services, and office education.

In addition to administrative records, most of these non-reservation schools created and maintained a case file for each student. The information found in these case files generally includes:

  • Student's name
  • Degree of Indian blood
  • Tribal affiliation
  • Names and tribal affiliations of the student’s parents or guardians
  • Home address
  • Religious affiliation
  • Dates of attendance

While the specific documents can vary widely, the records may include applications for enrollment, medical examination forms, attendance and grade reports, examples of student work, newspaper clippings, documents related to student employment, and correspondence.

Photographs generally do not appear in student case files.

Reservation Day Schools and Boarding Schools

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Teacher with picture cards giving English instruction to Navajo day school students (National Archives Identifier: 295158)

Records related to students attending reservation-based schools may be found in the administrative records of the BIA agency overseeing that reservation. While individual student case files seldom exist for these schools, student information may appear in records such as:

  • Annual reports
  • Attendance registers
  • Correspondence
  • Group photographs
  • Lists of students
  • School censuses

Learn more about administrative records pertaining to American Indian and Alaska Native schools.

Requesting School Records

To request information about students who attended off-reservation boarding schools, please contact the NARA research facility holding the records for the pertinent school, according to the state-by-state list of BIA Schools.

To request information about students who attended reservation day or boarding schools, contact the NARA research facility holding the records for the BIA agency overseeing that reservation, according to the state-by-state Navigating Record Group 75 guide. Select reservation-based schools are also included in the list of BIA Schools.

Please include the following information in your request to NARA staff:

  • Student’s full name and any spelling variations
  • Student’s date of birth
  • Student’s tribal affiliation

Additional information, such as the names of parents or guardians, may be helpful in identifying a match.

If the student attended a mission school run by a religious organization, contact the mission agency or religious denomination that established and operated that school.

Tips for Locating Student Records

  • Consider where the individual and their siblings (if any) lived when choosing which schools to search. Records can often include correspondence referring to multiple family members.
  • If the first school you check has no record of the student’s attendance, look for other schools in the same or neighboring states.
  • Understand when the school was in operation and how that coincides with your individual’s school attendance.

A Note About Privacy Restrictions

Student case files and other student-related documents that are less than 75 years old may contain personal information about individuals who are still living. These records are restricted under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Exemption (b)(6), and must be screened by National Archives staff before being released to researchers. Personal information may be redacted. Learn more about FOIA.