Indian industrial and boarding schools
|Once a 19th-century Indian industrial school located in Genoa, Neb., this building has been converted into a museum. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com|
By Don and Diane Wells
Growing up in Albany, Ga., in the late-1940s, Saturdays were a special day when we, on occasion, got the opportunity to go to the Liberty Theater and see cowboys-and-Indians movies.
For much less than $1, we could buy a ticket, a bag of popcorn and a drink and enjoy the Wild West on the silver screen. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix, Lash Larue, Hopalong Cassidy and many more stars entertained us with tales of the cowboys taming the land and the Indians.
In school, our education about the Indians did little to improve our understanding, and we were left with Hollywood’s portrayal of the indigenous people who were here long before our ancestors arrived. To a great extent, we had no idea about the American Holocaust or its effect on the Indians’ culture that changed their way of life forever.
Today, Diane and I travel the southeast and as far west as Arkansas and Oklahoma, teaching how our ancestors’ policies, attitudes and actions harmed the Indians. The shock on some of the faces of the people who attend our seminars tells us they, like us, never were taught the truth about what occurred to the indigenous people of the New World.
This series of articles will address only one major aspect of the loss of Indian culture. Our book, “Mystery of the Trees,” deals with other aspects of the loss of culture. However, it and other articles fall short of providing a comprehensive understanding of the disasters that befell Native Americans.
Indian industrial and boarding schools
A quote from the high school textbook “American History: A Survey,” published in 1987, probably best describes the attitudes and actions of the settlers to America.
“For thousands of centuries – centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe— continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works. The story of the Europeans in the New World is the story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”
For more than 400 years after Columbus arrived in the New World, the indigenous people who had lived here for more than 12,000 years were treated as if they did not exist. They were a hindrance to the white man’s plan for America and, as such, needed to be eliminated or, at least, removed. Within this 400-year period, 90 percent of the native population perished as part of the American Holocaust.
Many books and articles have been written about the happenings in this time, but that is beyond the scope of this series. We will focus our attention on one atrocity that happened after the Native Americans had been removed to the western reservations. It well may be described as one of the darkest periods of American history.
Years after the Five Civilized Tribes – Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw – had been removed to reservations in Oklahoma, the U.S. Army concentrated on removing the western tribes to reservations, completing that work in the mid- to late-1870s. The government’s treaty provision for providing food to Indians on the reservations was inadequate, and, mostly, it was unfit to eat. Thus, they were starving. The government did little to resolve this problem. Therefore, many warriors left the reservations to hunt for food. Some of that food was to be found on the ranches of the encroaching white settlers.
Richard Henry Pratt, an officer of the Army’s 10th Cavalry, spent the period of 1867-1875 in Indian Territory trying to force the warriors to stay on the reservations. Finally, in 1875, he was put in charge of rounding up 75 warriors from the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche and Caddo nations. They were exiled to St. Augustine, Fla., and incarcerated at Fort Marion Prison. In Florida, Pratt made the Indians dress in military uniforms and follow military discipline, dividing them into companies.
It was during this time he began to formulate his ideas on Indian education. His philosophy, and that of the Quakers and other missionaries, was to civilize the Indians to become like white men. He modeled some of his ideas on the Hampton Institute in Virginia, which was established in 1868 as a boarding school for African-American children. This school was designed to educate by training “the head, the hand and the heart” and then to return the children, after many years, to their communities as leaders. Some of Pratt’s Indians chose to go to the Hampton school after their imprisonment at Fort Marion.
Pratt’s philosophy eventually led to his most famous quote: “Kill the Indian, save the man.”
His goal was to take children from the reservations and, in his words, “immerse them in the white man’s civilization and hold them there until they were thoroughly soaked.”
No government policy was enacted by Congress to allow Indian children to be removed from the reservations. Rather, Pratt lobbied the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of War to allow him to do an experiment in educating the children. He would take them from the reservations, remove them to a school far away from tribal influences and transform them. In 1879, he secured permission to begin. He was supported by wealthy white benefactors, given the use of an old Army barracks in Carlisle, Pa., and the Indian industrial schools began.
Pratt gained the backing of several Indian chiefs in the Dakota Territory Reservations to allow their children to attend the school. Some who he had incarcerated in Florida convinced the chiefs to allow their children to attend, as well.
All in all, 82 children were sent to Carlisle. They arrived Oct. 6, 1879. When they reached the barracks, the promised provisions of food, clothing and bedding by the Bureau of Indian Affairs were not there. The children slept on the floor and had no food to eat. Thus began the experiment to help the Indian children become “white.”
Next month we begin the story of the Indian industrial schools.