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Yakama Nation Member Recalls Forced Assimilation At Oregon Boarding School

Special Collections and University Archives
University of Oregon Libraries
Russell Jim was sent to the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, in the 1940s.

For nearly a century, the U.S. government had a policy of pushing many Native American families to send their children to boarding schools. Away from their homes and traditions, the students were often forced to abandon their cultures and languages, and adopt English and mainstream white customs.

Russell Jim was a child in the 1940s when he was sent from away from the Yakama Nation in Washington to the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. He recalls being beaten for talking in his native language, and sneaking beneath a loose floorboard with classmates in order to speak their mother tongue in secret.

Jim is now program manager of environmental restoration and waste management for the Confederate Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. He says scars left by the forced assimilation in Indian boarding schools span generations.