Tribal Boarding School: Influence on Ethnic Identity

For over 100 years, the United States school system has been the story of Native Americans. No Indian has gone unaffected by the consequences of this systematic institution. Millions of Indians have been forced into federal boarding schools, struggling to stay alive in unsanitary and disease infested conditions. Living on top of one another and sleeping in military style barracks. Children were totally removed from their families and heritage for extended periods of time, often for years.

This photographic essay is a pictographic story of a culture of people whose lives where forever changed by this imposed system. Beginning in 1879, Indian boarding schools were established across America starting on the east coast with Hampton Institute in Virginia, and Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania (Giago 1). The U. S. government took on the responsibility of Indian education as part of a treaty agreement (BIA ix, Ammon 10). The treaties were made in exchange for land; the U. S. government would provide medical, educational, and essential needs to the tribes (BIA ix).

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Captain Richard Pratt convinced parents on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations in Dakota Territory to let the United States take boys and girls to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, over 1,500 miles away (Indian Country Diaries). Pratt was convinced that only by removing children from the supposedly corrupting tribal environment and by schooling them among white people could they assimilate into American life (Coleman 46). He was convinced that Indians only needed a “broad and enlarged liberty of opportunity and training to make them, with in the short space of a few years, a perfectly acceptable part of our population” (Fear-Segal 158).

Pratt was granted permission to conduct this educational experiment to prove this theory (Fear-Segal 158). Carlisle closed in 1918, but for 39 years it became home away from home for thousands of Indian boys and girls of different tribal groups (Coleman 46). Pratt’s example caused a domino effect across the nation and by 1902 twenty-five off reservation boarding schools were built (Coleman 46). Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Native American young people were educated away from their families, roughly 10% of the total Indian population in 1900 (Indian Country Diaries). Above are pictures f Captain Richard Pratt and a map of the 25 off-reservation boarding schools. Pratt is posing very militaristic with his sword and hat. His stern look on his face implies a harsh discipline attitude. From the map you can see the distance between reservations and schools. Indian children were taken to the farthest boarding school from their reservation to prevent any children from running away and returning home (Coleman 46). The school system set out to destroy century old traditions, cultures, inherent spirituality, and the native language of the people (Giago 4; Coleman 2).

The goal was full assimilation of Indian children into American society and the eradication of Indian culture (BIA ix; Collins 467). Before and after photos were taken of the children to document savagery to civility, their hair was cut, clothes and names were changed all to reinforce inferiority with their ways of living (Collins 471). So at Carlisle, Americanization of clothes, values, language and deportment were linked to a “whitening” process that was used openly to assimilate the Indians (Fear-Segal 163).

Photographs cleverly demonstrated that a Carlisle education brought not just crisp clothes, short hair, and a manly gaze but also a whiter skin (Fear-Segal 163). The careful use of front lighting and white powder, the photographer became skilled at presenting a subtle message of racial bleaching that was evident in photographs of groups as well as those of individuals (Fear-Segal 164). The above picture was taken as the children arrived a Carlisle in November of 1886 next to it is a photograph of the same children four months later.

They are photos of Chiricahua Apache students as they arrived at the Carlisle Indian School from Fort Marion, Florida, November 4, 1886 (Coleman 178). Before and after photographs were used by educators to show the effects of “civilization” on former “savages” (Coleman 178). Although these boys and girls wore items of American clothing, they appeared unkempt and “uncivilized” (Coleman 178). The boys’ long hair was especially deplorable to white educators (Coleman 178). Notice the military clothing, the short hair, not a single child is smiling in either photo.

Also the background, the arrival picture is taken outside in front of a run down dirty building implying the savagery of the children. Four months later the photo is taken in front of a clean, plain background implying the “cleaned-up” appearance. The faces look whiter in the second photograph compared to the first confirming the use of whitening techniques used by the photographer. These photographs and several others were used as propaganda to promote the boarding school system and prove Pratts’ theory (Fear-Segal 167).

According to Lomawaima, the education system tore many Indians away from their homelands for months to years at a time (lomawaima 641). There was no parental role model for them to follow (Andrew 22). Food was poor, daily regiment were strict with harsh and swift punishments; standards set by teachers were difficult to meet (Collins 474). School life was modeled after military life (Carlisle). Uniforms were issued for boys, the girls dressed in Victorian-style dresses (Carlisle). Shoes were required, as no moccasins were allowed (Carlisle).

The boys and girls were organized into companies with officers who took charge of drill (Carlisle). The children marched to and from their classes, and to the dining hall for meals (Carlisle). Children were fed on 11 cents a day, undermining their health and increasing widespread diseases such as tuberculosis and malnutrition (Huff 8-9). The above picture is an interior view of the Indian Government school. The large photographs of President Washington and the United States flag over the door way are obvious expressions of the BIA’s drive to Americanize young Indians.

It looks like the children are learning to count or some form of western academics. Notice the military clothing, short hair and girls’ hair is pulled back in Victorian-style. The separation of boys and girls on opposite sides of the classroom implies Christianity views on gender. Child labor was used to support the school; half of the day would be spent in the classroom, while the other half would be spent learning manual laboring tasks (Huff 8-9). Therefore, only receiving half the education than that of white students (Davis 20-22).

Indian boys learned tasks related to labor, agriculture and arts and Indian girls would learn tasks related to house-ware training and domestic work (Trennert 280-289). This photo shows young men in the early 1900s who were trained to build stairs as part of their industrial training (Vuckovic 174). The students learned all the skills necessary to maintain the school grounds and buildings (Vuckovic 174). The picture to the left is a photo of girls shown making butter in the early 1900s (Vuckovic 170). Although the students produced most of the food or the school themselves, butter was a delicacy that the children themselves did not get to enjoy often (Vuckovic 170). They lived with white families during the summer and school year in hopes they would forget about the Indian way and adopt colonial way (Coleman 13). This was referred to as the “outing system” designed to educate Indian youth and prepare them for self-support (Coleman 128). Pratt viewed this outing system as the best possible way of fitting them for the ownership and cultivation of the lands, which are being allotted to them by the Government (Coleman 128).

Indian children were always hoped to become farmers, housewives never businessmen or owners, therefore the schools focused on manual labor training rather than academics (Coleman 128). Lomawaima claims the core goal of education of girls at Chilocco school was the development of subservience among Indian woman rather than realistic training for employment (Coleman 128). The manual labor element was more than a matter of preparation for a job; it was part of the moral training of the Indian child for economic self-reliance in accord with American values, preparing him or her for civilized citizenship in the United States (Coleman 127).

The superintendents of the boarding schools viewed male Indians as lazy, nomadic savages and should settle as farmers (Coleman 127). Their women were encouraged to cease wandering to gather berries, or in farming tribes, working outside the home in their fields, that was a man’s work, and become model housewives taking care of their farm cabins (Coleman 127). Pratt’s intent was to civilize the Indian and acculturate them into American society, but only to inferior levels to maintain European dominance. This is apparent through the rigorous training of the boarding schools.

They were never allowed to speak their language, play with siblings, or practice any cultural and religious traditions (Fear-Segal 160-161; Giago 5). If they did they were subject to corporal punishment, physical and sexual abuse (Fear-Segal 160-161; Giago 5). For American authorities and teachers, the mission was to spread the “Christian civilization,” of which the United States was the foremost exemplar (Coleman 133). Western educators believed in providing the children with an embracing moral context (Coleman 133).

The broad principles of the Bible, of religion, and morality are taught, and as far as it is possible, only strong religious characters are placed in charge of the children, “the moral condition of the schools is of supreme importance” (Coleman 133). BIA teachers appear to have simply ignored tribal beliefs and promoted Christian ones (Coleman 135). All Carlisle students were free to choose any Christian denomination most of the pupils selected the Episcopalian Church (Coleman 135). Pratt reported that all the students attend Sabbath school, the girls in their own chapel, the boys at the different churches in Carlisle town (Coleman135).

Pratt believed such religious influences produced gratifying results and provided pupils with a broader vision (Coleman 135). The strict regimen and forced Christian views did not convince all Indian children to convert. The vast majority of Indian pupils were non-Christian “heathens” they responded in diverse ways (Coleman 135). One Nakota student recalls rejecting Christianity perhaps as a result of her unhappiness at the boarding school along with a sense of guilt over having left her mother (Coleman 135).

Others recall attending Sunday school and not understanding a thing the preacher was talking about, but had to sit and listen anyways; making the students hate them (Coleman 135). The above picture show evening prayers in the girls’ dormitory at the Phoenix Indian School in the early 1900s (Coleman 182). What is interesting about this picture is all the children are dressed in white suggesting the purity of western religions. The girls are also kneeling and hands are folded in prayer. Obviously this is a learned behavior reinforcing the proper mannerisms that come along with western religions.

The little girl starring at the photographer has no clue what she is doing or even understanding the concept of kneeling and praying. She is just mimicking the other girls, even the older ones do not appear to be praying but just performing for fear on being punished. In order to get the Indian children to get rid of their Indian culture, some of the staff took extreme measures of punishment and abuse. The majority of the abuse did not come from the administration but instead it came from the dorm counselors and from the teachers (Daniels 4).

A group of Indian girls from the Walker Regency Indian School in Nevada recall being stripped naked and flogged after being accused of stealing baking powder. Others at the Oblate’s St. Philips Residential School said a teacher burned the students with a cigarette lighter (Churchill 52,55). Abuse and sickness caused numerous unnecessary deaths at the boarding schools. Carlisle cemetery is the resting ground for some of the children remains. Not all the children who died were buried in the cemetery (Fear-Segal 232).

Those who died while orking on local farms during the summer, or on longer “outing” placements, were often not brought back for burial at the school (Fear-Segal 232). Pratt deliberately started to send sick and dying children back to die in their communities (Fear-Segal 232). The cemetery’s history makes clear that the original graves have been moved, the original Indian Cemetery was located to the rear of the grandstand on Indian Field (Fear-Segal 231). The picture shows a metal plaque that informs visitors that this is an “Indian Cemetery” (Fear-Segal 231). This new cemetery is now located beside the back entrance to the U. S. Army War College in Carlisle (Fear-Segal 231). The placement of the cemetery and that it was moved shows the inferior exploitive views placed on Native Americans. Today most of the schools in the United States are entirely shut down but some schools still remain. Since the abuse is targeted at American Indians exclusively, it is a violation of the Continuing Effect of Human Rights. As a result of the abuse many American Indian communities are suffering the after effects of the abuse. They are also still are trying to regain the culture the boarding schools took away from them

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