The revelation that at least 215 students had died at the Kamloops (B.C.) Indian Residential School, in the news because of the discovery of unidentified children’s bones below the soil on the campus of this institution no longer in use, made me ask how widespread were these boarding schools for Native Americans in the US, and whether conditions in them were as bad here as in Canada. The answer is that there were hundreds in the US and that thousands, likely tens of thousands, of children died, whether by abuse or neglect, suicide or diseases such as tuberculosis, measles, influenza (the 1918-1919 flu took many of them), and others.
I thought then of Thoreau who, almost alone in the 19th century when the schools were coming into existence (purportedly to “civilize” [i.e., Christianize] the Native American children, while extracting their language and culture), felt that there was much of value, and much to be learned, from American Indian languages and these cultures. He was intensely curious about how they had lived. “Some have spoken [so] slightingly of the Indians,” he wrote, “that they hardly deserved to be remembered”; but Thoreau wrote two thousand, eight hundred pages in his “Indian Notebooks” filled with his personal observations as well as quotations from historians and travelers.
Thoreau found the “indigenous man [sic] of America” inexhaustibly interesting. Because, he wrote, they “inhabited these shores before us, we wish to know particularly what manner of men they were, how they lived here, their relation to nature, their arts and their customs, their fancies and their superstitions. They paddled over these waters, they wandered in these woods; and they had their fancies and beliefs connected with the sea and the forest…” Thoreau insightfully links indigenous ways of being and knowing with “place” (“these waters… these woods”).
 Pauleena MacDougall, "Some Observations on the Penobscot Writing of Joseph Polis (1809-1884)," paper delivered to the 32nd Algonquian Conference, Montreal, Canada, Oct. 27-29, 2000. Accessible via the Digital Commons at the University of Maine, Papers on the Penobscot Language.