Flandreau Indian School History
The Flandreau Indian School has been in operation for nearly 150 years. It is the oldest continually operating Federal Indian boarding school maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The school began as a mission church in 1871 and continued until 1883 when the government purchased the property. In 1892 it became a boarding school with the first six students and was known as the Riggs Institute in honor of Rev. Stephen Riggs, the pioneer missionary among the Indians. The first class was graduated in 1898 from the ninth grade.
From 1892 to 1918 academic work of the school included only the first eight grades. During the 1918-1919 term the tenth grade was added, and by 1929 the twelfth grade was included. Gradually through the years the lower grades were eliminated. Today the Flandreau Indian School, as it is now called, serves grades 9-12 and is fully accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools; its academic program is designed to meet the adopted South Dakota Education Standards in all areas. To qualify for acceptance in the Flandreau Indian School, students must be enrolled in a U.S. federally recognized tribe or must have at least one-fourth degree of Indian blood, if not enrolled.
Currently the campus, which can house nearly 600 students, consists of an academic building, gymnasium, dormitories, administration buildings, staff housing, workshops and barns. A central dining area, enabling students to go to and from meals without going outside during inclement weather, connects the dormitories. The school also offers a weight training room, Student Canteen, disc golf course, cross country course, contemporary industrial arts/fine arts complex, horse corral, ropes course, outdoor basketball courts, as well as laundry facilities, recreation areas and hobby shops in both dormitories.
In addition to academics, students are offered many Home Living options. Those interested in athletics can chose from basketball, football, cross country, track, volleyball, golf, wrestling and cheerleading. In addition to the athletic program many clubs have been offered: Computer Creations, Highwired, Quilting, Computer Hardware, Commercial Design, Danceline, Camera Club, Baking, Drama, Pep Club, Curtains and Pillows (sewing), Native Knights (chess), Indian Club, Pipe Making, Outdoor Club, Horticulture Club and After Hours Club. FIS also has a Religious Coordinator/Chaplain who holds church services every Sunday, social activities on Wednesday evenings, and office hours during the week. Other opportunities include nightly group counseling sessions available with counselors in the dorms, off-campus AA or NA meetings, movies, open gym, hanging out at the Canteen, Friday night dances, Tuesday night shopping, sweats, on-campus work study and off-campus employment.
The Flandreau Indian School has become a bridge between the cultures where young people from diverse backgrounds may grow to their fullest potential. It is a caring place where many relationships are developed between staff members and students. Each year students from approximately 50 different tribes and nearly 20 different states attend the school.
- Excerpts from Flandreau Indian School historical writings
All photos courtesy of The Library of Congress and Flandreau Indian School