On July 20, the Cherokee Nation posted a video on YouTube as part of its Lunch & Learn lecture series. Lawrence Panther was 8 years old when he was enrolled in the Seneca Indian Boarding School in Wyandotte, Oklahoma. He attended the school from 1964 to 1971.
He remembers the day he was picked up by the superintendent; it was December 8, 1964: “I didn’t know where I was going or what was happening… we just packed a bunch of clothes up in a box,” he says in the video. He and his siblings all had their belongings packed in boxes and were picked up to attend the boarding school.
Panther was in third grade when he started at the school, and nobody told him or his siblings what was happening or where they were going.
Because he “didn’t know what to think” he says in the video that he felt “lost” and “lonely” when he first arrived at the boarding school. “Every night for those three weeks, I would cry,” he says in the video.
Daily life at the Seneca Indian Boarding School began promptly with the ringing of the bell at 6 a.m. Meals were a choreographed, yet quiet dance of standing, sitting and singing when instructed by the dining hall matron and her bell. Each of the some 200 Native American students had an assigned seat, so it was easy to tell who was absent.
“How we were expected to follow the rules… I never really did think it was like prison or anything like that… probably because I really didn’t grasp what was going on,” he says in the video.
After breakfast each student had a task, Panther’s was sweeping sidewalks when he first arrived. Classes would then begin around 8 a.m. On weekends, the students could walk the half-mile to town.
“It’s hard to imagine letting kids [at that age] walking that far now,” Panther says of the boarding school students, who were as young as 5.
Panther said it was the sports that helped him adjust to being at boarding school, activities like baseball and football. He wasn’t one of them, but some students, like one of his cousins, did try to run away from the school.
While most of the students kept to themselves, but there was bullying. Even Panther admitted to ganging up on kids with lighter skin. Until he learned that they were all in the same boat at the boarding school and bullied one student to the point of jumping out a second-story window. He then decided that wasn’t the way to behave anymore.
While a few employees did speak Cherokee, attending the boarding school was where he first spoke English, and saw some rough treatment of students by some employees.
“There was a nurse there, she was pretty rough with students,” he says in the video. He saw an 8-year-old girl get slapped around for not taking care of her eyeglasses. “That scared me when something like that would happen.
After Panther discusses daily life at Seneca Indian Boarding School, he opens the floor up to questions. Watch the full video below: