History Professor Keith Burich, PhD, Pens New Book
BUFFALO, NY – Canisius College History Professor Keith R. Burich, PhD, recently released The Thomas Indian School and the “Irredeemable” Children of New York. Published by Syracuse University Press, the book tells the story of the Thomas Indian School, which has long been overlooked by history and historians, even though it predated, lasted longer and affected a larger number of Indian children than most of the more well-known federal boarding schools.
Founded by Presbyterian missionaries on the Cattaraugus Seneca Reservation in Western New York, the Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children, as it was formally named, was a distinctively different kind of Indian school in that it was non-federal, state run, and committed to the idea of the “irredeemable” Indian child. Burich’s book explores the Iroquois people, and the suffering and despair of its children who found themselves trapped in an institution from which there was little chance for escape. Although the school began as a refuge for children, it also served as a mechanism for “civilizing and converting native children to Christianity,” explains Burich. As the school’s population swelled and financial support dried up, the founders were forced to turn the school over to the state of New York. Under the State Board of Charities, children were subjected to prejudice, poor treatment and long-term institutionalization, resulting in alienation from their indigenous families and cultures.
Burich is a professor of Native American history and director of the American Indian Center at Canisius College.
One of 28 Jesuit colleges in the nation, Canisius is the premier private college in Western New York.