Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


This study uses archival sources and oral history interviews to construct a history of St. Elizabeth’s Boarding School for Indian Children an institution sponsored by the Protestant Episcopal Church and located on the South Dakota side of the Standing Rock Reservation. St. Elizabeth’s opened in 1886 and closed in 1967. In the 1930s the school closed, and students attended a local public school; however, the mission continued to board children. Essentially the goals of the school, first set down by Bishop William Hobart Hare, continued to shape St. Elizabeth’s after it became a mission home. The major goal of this school, like all boarding schools of the era was to lead children to accept Christian civilization.

The dual methodologies of archival research coupled with oral interviews introduce the texture and meaning of the boarding school experience through the voices of former students. This study examines the following broad questions: what were the goals and organization of St. Elizabeth’s Boarding School for Indian Children, and what were the barding school experiences of former St. Elizabeth’s students from their own perspectives?

Through examination of the lived memories of those who were part of the education process at St. Elizabeth’s it became clear that, despite the best intentions of the Episcopal Church hierarchy and the federal government, those who attended and lived at St. Elizabeth’s gained an education, became Christian, but did so on their terms. In the process they did not lose important cultural foundations which defined them as Lakota, or in a broader context, as Indian. Lakota conversion to the Episcopal faith, to Christianity, must be understood, in part, as a response to the reservation experience, and this included political, social, economic, and spiritual duress. Conversion for many Lakota people was an additive process and did not mean giving up their essential identity as Lakota people. Despite the imposition of boarding schools and expectations of conversion to “Christian civilization,” Native people have retained an essential concept of self as tribal people with a particular worldview.