American Indian Education in Virginia
For thousands of years, indigenous peoples in the Americas educated their children by example and used stories to transmit knowledge and social values. When the English arrived at Jamestown in 1607, they assumed that their own cultural practices and religious beliefs were superior to those of Native peoples, and they believed it their duty to educate Indians according to English traditions and to instruct them in the Christian faith. In so doing, they hoped to create Indian teachers and missionaries who would work among their own people to eliminate “savage behavior” and replace it with English attitudes.
The first institute for Indians in Virginia was the Brafferton School at the College of William and Mary. It was followed a century later by an American Indian program at the Hampton Normal School. Both programs required the Indian students to relocate far from home, and neither program incorporated Native perspectives into its policies or curricula.
During the 20th century, many Virginia Indian students attended primary schools that were operated by church missions established in their local areas. Because secondary schools for Indians did not exist in Virginia, many students attended federal Indian boarding schools as far away as Bacone Indian University in Oklahoma. When schools across the country were desegregated in the 1960s, Virginia Indians entered public schools and gained access to higher education.