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Presbyterian Church (USA) – Henry Roe Cloud and the American Indian Institute

American Indian Institute student group, circa 1930. Pearl ID: 300779

Now available in Pearl, the digital archive of the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS), are records from the American Indian Institute, one of the first college-preparatory schools for Native American boys in the country.

Known as the Roe Indian Institute until 1921, the school was founded in 1915 by the Reverend Henry Roe Cloud, a Native American pastor and Ho-Chunk Presbyterian.

The newly digitized records trace the institution’s first founding through its transfer of leadership to the Board of National Missions in 1931. They include correspondence (primarily with Cloud), reports, financial statements, contribution records, and other documents relating to school management.

Cloud was born in 1884 on the Winnebago Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. Orphaned at age 13, he spent his childhood immersed in Christian education, attending reservation and non-reservation schools, including Santee Memorial Training School in Nebraska and Mount Hermon Preparatory School in Massachusetts. Cloud later enrolled at Yale University, becoming one of its first Native American students. There he met Walter C. and Mary Wickham Roe, two evangelical missionaries who became his “adoptive” parents. Cloud went on to study at Oberlin College and Auburn Theological Seminary, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity. In 1913, Cloud was ordained a Presbyterian minister.

In 1915, Cloud founded the Roe Indian Institute, in Wichita, Kansas, which eventually became the American Indian Institute. The school was run by Native Americans, providing a unique educational opportunity for indigenous youth. Cloud’s wife, Elizabeth Bender Roe Cloud, was a seasoned educator and activist who helped incorporate a curriculum that appreciated indigenous cultures.

The US government saw Cloud as an asset to foster Native relationships and create policy. In 1931 he dropped out of school and began working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Following his time with the BIA, Cloud became superintendent of Haskell Institute in Kansas. His career eventually led him to other native institutions including Umatilla Indian Agency and Grande Ronde and Siletz Indian Agencies in Oregon. He died of a heart attack on February 9, 1950, leaving Elizabeth and their four daughters.

Henry Roe Cloud’s impact remains appreciated today. In 2010, Yale celebrated the centennial of his graduation.

Trail training, 1929, American Indian Institute. Pearl ID: 300774

The American Indian Institute remained under Presbyterian supervision until its closure in 1935, and was one of many Presbyterian-affiliated Native American schools, including early mission schools, boarding schools on and off the reservation, day schools, agricultural and industrial schools, and higher education schools.

To assist researchers, PHS has created the Guide to Presbyterian-affiliated Native American Schools, which offers brief histories of each (including alternate names) and a list of the society’s collection materials that discuss the school’s history.

The Presbyterian Historical Society recognizes the original inhabitants of the land on which its building stands: the Lenapehoking (Lenni-Lenape).

This article first appeared on the PHS blog. Want to learn more about the PC National Archives (USA)? Get to know PHS!

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