Living in any environment and society that keeps up with modern civilization needs to keep up with the education plan. The United States whose government was comprised mostly of whites from different regions of Europe during its early years, began to emerge as one of the leading countries in the world, especially with advantage of location in western hemisphere. It had distinct government system that wanted to promote education among all whites. In 1865, the end of civil war, which lasted for four prolonged dreaded years, brought emancipation from slavery to black population allowing black people to attend schools and gain public knowledge. It is different story with American Indians, however, people who had lived on this continent for several millenniums developing its own systems of education necessary for survival. Once white people “discovered New World” they strived to convert Indian nations to European standards of living continuing to present days.
One way American government perceived to convert or to change Indians is by acquiring rights to their children through schooling, which was located off of Indian reservations.
The word was civilization. Europe and America considered their societies civilized up to times; Indian tribes on reservations, on the other hand, were viewed as savage nations. European nations who began to populate North America and early Government of this country differed in culture and ways of living from Indians, simply considered these nations less civilized. White nation emigrating from Europe, conquering the continent, forming government of the U.S., and considering themselves as great philanthropists, sought how to civilize local population to adopt ways of white culture. The idea of civilization embodied the minds of legislators of this country who stated that “the progress of conversion was inevitable and desirable, for civilization, especially Christian civilization, which gave expression to man’s noblest sentiments,” according to David Wallace.
The commencement of education was initiated when the first settlers, after establishing small towns along the east coast of the colonial America, perceived and sought ways to teach local population to acquire white culture. Both cultures differed greatly in economic, social, and political structures as well as religions, but the new comers did not want to consider these facts and, rather, proceeded with conversion. European nations exerted differing approaches to and influences upon the Native Americans. For instance, the Franciscans, mainly Spanish origin, entered the south, influencing the peoples of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California. The policy of the Franciscans was to gather the native peoples into villages around missions. The schools, while teaching Spanish, did not emphasize the academic subjects, placing greater stress upon agriculture, carpentry, blacksmith work, masonry, spinning, and weaving( to living on this earth 2). King James, who sent his settlers to the shores of North America, established Darmouth for the purpose to educate local Indians of white man’s ways.
Later, after American Revolution and formation of the U.S. government, education was influenced by the great religious awakening which took place in the new nation in early 1800s. In 1819, congress, at the request of President Monroe, passed an act which apportioned funds among those societies and individuals that had been prominent in the effort to “civilize” the Indians.
After massive removal of almost all Indian tribes from east coast, ordered and carried out by President Jackson who signed Indian Removal Act of 1830, attention toward Indians cooled off especially with the Civil War and its recovery. However, with the western expansion, government began to investigate Indian issues and oppress the natives. As a result, some reservation schools emerged in early 1870 and were placed right on the reservation being under strict supervision of agent in charge.
In 1882 several reformers went west to explore situation in tribes, and as soon as they came back from journey, firmly proposed two conclusions: first, educational reform is needed in order for Indians to assimilate into mainstream of American life; and second; firm reaction and will for government to implement the first. A new reform organization was formed called Indian Right Association which sought ways to “improve” the life of Indians and to prepare the way for their absorption into the common life of American people. Other organizations evolved as well who showed their interest in solving Indian problems and issues that arose at that time, which included education. Some advocates insisted that Indian children would attend public schools along with non-native kids aiming to “culturize” tribes quicker than through any other way.
Finally it came to conclusion that it would be better if the children would be sent to schools off of reservations, which would increase chances for social evolution among American Indians. One of the commissioners of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan had come to conclusion stating, “a good school may thus bridge over for them the dreary chasm of a thousand years of tedious evolution”. According to the same source, “schooling, if promised to do anything, promised to prepare Indians for economic self-efficiency.” One advocate even stated that it would be “cheaper to educate rather to kill and Indian”. It seems that Indians were the main source of white man’s problems that even murdering all of them went through the mind as an option. Education was harsh decision by whites to deal with this problem, but excessive force was not inevitable to transform Indian mind. In 1892 Department of Interior along with BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) became responsible for Indian education. School advocates were pressing an issue that American Indians can be assimilated with white culture only through enforcing education. Consideration for off-reservation seems bringing hope for the change of Indians, but it would bring segregation from the rest of the society. Advocates of off-reservation boarding schools looked at the issue differently stating “The ultimate rationale for the off-reservation school lay in its capacity to integrate students into the civilized community beyond the school’s walls through the so-called outing system.”
Off-reservation schools began to emerge east and west, wherever government had a chance to do so. Even though Indians wanted education for their children, but they did not want to accomplish it by of off-reservation schools. Old abandoned army forts were converted into boarding schools, children were removed-sometimes forcibly-long distances from their homes, the use of Indian languages by children was forbidden under threat of corporal punishment, students were boarded out to white families during vacation times, and native religions were suppressed. By 1902 around twenty five boarding schools opened in approximately fifteen states including California, and attendance exceeded twenty thousand Indian students.
The establishment of off-reservation schools for Indian education was not the only incentive for the U.S government. Many legislators have figure out how much these schools will help economy to spring due to more consumption of goods purchased from markets of nearby towns. White teachers and other type of workers could contribute to town’s economy by working in schools and enabling towns to grow financially. It seems like a small factor for the purpose of Indian education, but to strengthen economy in small towns by bringing off-reservation schools would be capable to give firm basis for the establishment.
The schools continued its strong existence up to 1924 when Indians received their citizenship of the United States and following by Meriam Report that came out in 1932, did the reservation schools began to convert into public schools. Off-reservation boarding schools were reduced in number and some of them were shut down due to political changes toward Indian policy. The citizenship promoted education in public schools with the rest of the children of American society. Changes came once more with the end of World War II where Indian children were encouraged to attend off-reservation schools due to rapid changes in U.S. economy promising to prepare children to be better prepared for the acceptance and assimilation into modern world.
With the off-reservation boarding schools Indian children had to go through changes that left scars in their young souls. As known, on reservation schools had many advantages over off-reservation schools. Of course on reservation schools children were in school all day long acquiring knowledge about white culture, but the problem was with religion. Indians were practicing their religious acts and rituals on their reservations wanting and longing to pass on cultural traditions including religion on to their inheritance-children. Teacher and school administration were strictly against any traditional religions and school curriculum imposed Christianity as a religion. In many instances it became forceful where children were forced to memorize verses and chapters out of Holy Scriptures. The only relief these children received was in the evening when they were allowed to return home for overnight and see their closed ones. Enrollment was mandatory at all times and only during vacations could children stay at home at all time. However, to accelerate the process of conversion, President Grant stated that removal from home and tribe was viewed as necessary for the elimination of Indian identity and, therefore, the Indian Problem
However, by the late 1890s, these schools were closed by the federal government and the education of Indians came under the control of a paternalistic government. Government wanted full control of lives of Indian children.
When off-reservation board schools first initiated for Indian young generation, many of the children were forcefully taken away from their homes, off reservations into old abandoned structures that served as warehouses or military barracks having inadequate sanitary conditions according to standards of that time. Boys and girls were not taught together and were separated physically. Up on arrival to reservation schools it was mandatory to change Indian names to something European i.e, children were assigned white names and had to use them every day. They were discouraged to use their real names among each other and in case a teacher heard the use of real names among student they would punish those giving tasks like cleaning restrooms.
Some children were lured into off reservation schools by white people who would describe the world in colored terms and stating facts of some Indian children that already had experience in off-boarding schools. Since Indians were isolated from the main world and its culture, the stories told by other children who came off reservation boarding schools would bring the excitement to other kids by sharing their first experience of seeing the world. For instance, Polingaysi Qoyawayma, from Hopi tribe, tells a story about herself, how she was attracted to off-reservation boarding school by her friend, who shared her experience on similar off-reservation school. Polingaysi’s friend explained what they did in schools including that they had a children’s playground where they played with the ball. However, the other activities included making traditional Indian things such making plaque. Polingaysi was so inspired that she jumped and went to her mother asking her to teach plaque-making.
As noted before, children on reservation were forced into schools by white administrators who ran these schools. Many children were not allowed to see their parents for days, and only on weekends they had a chance to come home. When children were brought to off-reservation schools, against their will, boys and girls were cut off their long hair, first sign indicating that they should forget their culture. Girls were affected the most since hair was their pride and beauty.
As far as parents, it was hard for them to accept the fact that their children were somewhere else, not home. Can you imagine, as a parent, government having custody of your kids? I don’t think it is imaginable because today we have a lot of lawsuits where divorced parents want to have custody of their kids fighting legal battle just to hold on to that right. Indian families, however, were deprived of the right to fight government and to declare dependence of their children. I hope we can see that even Indian reservations had some sovereignty, but it was limited even with essential things like custody of children. As any other culture, Indian tribes wanted to pass on heritage to future generation, but with education policy they were stripped of any rights to teach cultural or religious values. Again, upon arrival to off-reservation schools children were assigned European names and were forbidden to practice any Indian traditions including talking in their native language. The government claim was that Indian children will be provided social welfare where they would receive new clothing, sufficient food, laundry services, and a warm place to stay and learn which obviously would be available on the reservation due to economic poverty. Of course many parents were glad that at least their children were properly nourished in schools, and therefore, would sent their pupils to reservation schools.
The separation of children from the parents, according to psychiatrist Dr. Robert Leon, would have physiological damage to young minds. He stated,” The damage caused to the child by his/her separation is directly related to the child’s age and the length of time that he/she is separated from the parents.” He claims the damage occurs due to loneliness and feel of rejection, since most of the children who were taken from their homes were of age five to eight. For older kids it was matter of privacy, since facilities were small comparing to the number of attendees. This forced children to be crammed into one tiny room, with very limited space for personal belongings. Later, after World War II these schools became understaffed with less supervision and counseling for young teens. The lack of mentors in these schools caused more problems.
Many children were not allowed to see their parents during vacations; instead they were placed within white families. The life style of white Americans had its toil on young people. For instance, alcoholism was dominant vice in white families, which caused domestic disputes and Indian children were vulnerable to these scenes saturating and spoiling their young minds, later causing same problems among the Indian families. As a matter of fact, alcoholism dominated and thrived among many reservations due to acceptance of white ways.
The effects of reservation schools had its imprints on current generation of Indians. Caroline King’s mother attended one of the off-reservation boarding schools and was placed into white family where she cleaned the house, and while she was there, a man abused her. “It brought problems into my family that weren’t there before,” she said. “After what happened, it became much easier for my mother to get angry. And that’s something we? my sisters and brothers? dealt with the whole time we were growing up.” As we can see sexual abuse was dominant toward Indian girls who live off reservations and there was nothing they could’ve done to protect themselves from these despicable acts.
Boarding schools continued their existence up to 1974 when President reinstated the self-determination of tribes allowing parents to decide on education for their children.
Education only brought extermination, of what was once known as great race. Currently, many tribes are working to reestablish their culture and heritage, participate in Indian affairs and bring important issues that pertain to Indian culture. Many organizations are working closely with legislature to gain more sovereignty for their tribes. But past will never be wiped off from the minds of Indians leaving deep scar that will stay there forever throughout generations. It was one of the government’s acts to civilize “savages,” which had significant damages to these cultures; nevertheless, they survived and gradually will recover to thrive once more as the great nation in the United States.