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The Unsettling Truth Behind 1923's Forced Assimilation American Indian Boarding School

In between depicting Cara Dutton (Helen Mirren) and Jacob Dutton (Harrison Ford) trying to keep their family and the Yelllowstone ranch afloat, "1923" has kept viewers riveted with a story snatched from history. This is the story of early-20th century American Indian boarding schools. 

Since the very first episode, viewers have been horrified to see Teonna Rainwater (Aminah Nieves) suffer abuse at the hands of her Catholic boarding school's teachers. Though Teonna faced her perpetrators with defiance, she suffered immensely before ultimately killing her abusers and making her escape in last month's midseason finale. This left fans cheering loud for Teonna's long-awaited escape. Meanwhile, in the show's most recent episode, Teonna flees through the wilderness and hydrates herself at a freshwater stream, all while creating a makeshift compasses and warding off wolves.

Teonna's story has been thrilling, but it was also inspired by a dark chapter in American history. While "1923" has admirably refused to shy away from this reality, it has also refrained from depicting its most gruesome elements.

Countless Indigenous children died in forced assimilation boarding schools

As "1923" shows, many Indigenous children in the 19th and 20th centuries were forcibly taken from their families and sent to Catholic boarding schools, where they were forced to sublimate their Indigenous languages and beliefs in order to assimilate into white American society. In addition to being starved and beaten, they were refused the right to speak their native language. If they so much as uttered a word of it, they could be punished anew. Because of this, these school were home to countless cases of abuse and torture.

As a new investigation by the Department of the Interior seeks to prove the tragedy goes even further than what people realize. For example, a smaller investigation in 2010 shows that 227 Indigenous children died in just one Catholic boarding school between 1893 and 1934. Meanwhile, in summer 2021, investigators found mass graves for over 1,500  children from seven boarding schools in Canada. Thus, the impact of these boarding school policies on Indigenous populations has become impossible to calculate. After all, there were more than 350 boarding schools of this kind in the United States.

While "1923" has exposed this dark reality to the viewing public, there's still much to learn about the extent of its horrific elements. Meanwhile, viewers can only grip their seats and wait to see what happens with Teonna and the boarding school she rightfully exacted revenge upon.