« Indian Boarding Schools » – Olivia Stock

 

   Until English settlers established themselves in the “New World”, Indian people in North America had always educated their children within their own communities, providing their youth with an informal education, helping them to develop their instinct, their individual interest and their personal skills.[1]

   However, when Europeans conquered the Indian nations, particularly at the end of the Civil War, the Indians not only lost control over their land but over their children’s education as well. As the Western expansion was proceeding, the question of “what to do with the Indians” arose. Many US officials, including President George Washington, believed that the best way to solve this “problem” was to “civilize” and assimilate Indians into American culture. Boarding schools were created for that effect in 1879. Through the process of forced assimilation, the idea was to destroy native culture and to educate native children. The motto of this whole mission was ‘Kill the Indian, save the man.’[2]

   In this essay, we will see to what extent Indian boarding schools were an example of one-way assimilation of Native Americans. We will provide some arguments to answer this question in two distinct parts.

   The aim of the first part is to analyze how the Manifest Destiny doctrine was used to justify a cultural genocide against Indian communities. In the second part, the consequences of the Indian Boarding School will be discussed. We will analyze the effects of the abuse the children experienced.

 

Part I: The Manifest Destiny doctrine and Indian “domestication”

   The Davin Report supported the general assertion in favor of separating children from their parents and communities. Davin observed that the Indian’s education had to be undertaken in the period of infancy :

The Indian is a man with traditions of his own, which make civilization a puzzle of despair. He is crafty, but conscious how weak his craft is when opposed to the superior cunning of the white man.[3]

Fig. 1. Native Americans, Carlisle Indian School between about 1880 and 1900. Denver Public Library, X-32085.

This quotation illustrates the general belief at that time that Indian people were naturally “inferior” to white Americans, and thus in need of guidance to learn how to take part in the modern American society. It is more than reminiscent of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny that clearly served as a background for US policies towards Indian people. This doctrine, dating back to the 1840s, expressed the belief in an Anglo-Saxon Americans’ exceptionalism based on its exemplary status as a model for the rest of the world.[4] In the case of Indian people, the doctrine was used as a legitimization of their “domestication” through a boarding school system. The Davin Report recommended that Indian parents be induced to send their children to boarding schools by giving families willing to collaborate “additional ration of tea and sugar”.[5]

 

     1. Kill the Indian, and save the man – Carlisle’s “progressive education”

Fig. 2. Native Americans, Carlisle Indian School between about 1880 and 1900. Denver Public Library, X-32086

   In his report, Davin expressed how he was particularly impressed by Carlisle boarding school which opened in 1879 in Pennsylvania. Its founder, Captain Richard Pratt proposed a new way to deal with the “Indian problem” thanks to “a systematic program of cultural extinction”. His famous motto “Kill the Indian in him and save the man” –first stated in his 1892 speech at George Mason University – summarized his whole program.[6]

   Education, assimilation, industrial training, quasi-military discipline and sport practice were the bases of his “civilizing process”. All the students were photographed[7] in their native dress when they first arrived at the school and were then photographed again after few months of the “civilizing process” (figures 1 and 2). Pratt used photographs as a mean of propaganda to convince the American society and the government that Carlisle students were successfully changed from “Indians” to “men” and moved from barbarism to civilization thanks to a “progressive education”.[8]

 

     2. Transforming Indians inside and out

Fig. 3. Debating class, Carlisle Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania between ca. 1900 and 1903. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-38126.

   Indians’ Americanization was sought by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as a complete education of the body, soul and spirit. Figure n°3, with the sign ‘LABOR CONQUERS ALL THINGS’ on the wall is a perfect example of the ideology implemented in Carlisle, and in the Indian boarding schools in general.

   In the Americanization process, the body was submitted to rank, discipline, order and labor. The Indian children’s postures on the photograph were studied to convey signs of assimilation and the idea of changes in the soul. As Davin argued: “One of the earliest things an attempt to civilize them does, is to take away their simple Indian mythology, the central idea of which, to wit, a perfect spirit, can hardly be improved on.”[9]

   Education of the body was inevitably coupled with a religious education of the soul. Forced conversion to Christianity was part of the plan to civilize Indian children and helped to sever them from their cultural origins and communities.

 

PART II: Consequences of the Indian Boarding Schools

   Due to the instances of mental, physical and sexual abuse experienced by the survivors, there are clear psychological effects that can be shown through a range of sources. The effects of the boarding schools did not only touch the attendees of the schools, but also the generations after. This relates to the research field of ‘intergenerational traumatology’[10] which argues that the effects of trauma exist throughout generations and that this trauma results in issues such as mental health, substance abuse and identity crises.

 

     1. Mental Health and Suicide

   The systematic removal of Indian children led to disproportionate levels of suicide and mental health problems amongst the survivors. It has been shown through several empirical studies that the trauma from experiences such as physical and sexual abuse, led to this outcome.

   Looking at the example of the Canadian Indigenous schools, there was clear psychological wounding that has persisted over generations. These wounds have resulted in survivors having low self-esteem levels, an inability to form relationships and post-traumatic stress disorder.[11] Post-traumatic stress disorder is highly common amongst children of boarding school attendees, as shown in Evan-Campbell’s Two-Spirit Study.[12]

     This study aimed to explain the higher rates of the suicide and suicidal thoughts within boarding school attendees. The study draws upon national samples which shows clearly that Native communities have the highest rates of mental health disorders in the United States.[13] For its own research, the study used a cross-sectional national health survey of Two-Spirit peoples, which found that 75% reported to attempting suicide at one point in their lives.[14] As well as this, the study highlights the generational trauma, showing that those raised by boarding school attendees were more likely to suffer from anxiety or PTSD.[15]

     

      2. Loss of Identity

   Finally, we will be looking at the loss of identity and culture as a consequence of the boarding schools. For this section, we will be using the case study of the documentary ‘Our Spirits Don’t Speak English’ by Chip Richie. This documentary successfully shows the ways in which the boarding schools systematically stripped the children of their culture. This eradication of culture created a generation of Indigenous people who could not identify with the traditions of their culture but did not feel Americanized or white.[16]

   The way in which the attendees were forced to learn English was horrific, such as being physically abused when they talked in their native language. A harrowing example in this documentary was told by Sen-uke-nu, who lost his native tongue, through the trauma of the abuse. He explains that he was hit and often put in isolation in a confined space for not speaking in English.[17] This obviously meant that children were traumatized by spending a long time in the residential schools confused as they did not understand the demands and rules of those running the schools. In ‘Our Spirits Don’t Speak English’, Sen-uke-nu explains his loss of spirituality as he felt he could not connect with the spirits, which left him in turmoil.[18]

   This forced assimilation and loss of culture has meant that many native traditions and languages have been lost. The survivors felt conflict within themselves not only due to the abuses they experienced, but from a lack of identity. The Indian culture, languages and identity were deeply threatened by the residential schools and left many who were ingrained with a sense of shame in their culture.[19]

 

    To conclude, the first part of this paper has helped us to see how the establishment of Indian off-reservation boarding schools was a US governmental plan to “civilize” Indians through a forced-assimilation policy. Even if some people defended this schooling as a “progressive” education that would enable Indians to take part in the American “modern” society, the fact remains that Indian children were submitted to an industrial schooling where discipline and forced Christian conversion were tools used to sever them from their cultural origins and communities.

    Finally, we have shown the consequences of this forced assimilation of the Boarding Schools. As explained, the abuse and psychological effects of the schools has led to a generation of Native people who have had to come to terms with what they have gone through. We have argued that this trauma has been an intergenerational cycle of trauma, in which generations of Indigenous people have felt the effects of these schools.

   It is difficult to assess whether the Residential Schools were successful in its goal to ‘Kill the Indian’. As it has been argued, there was a loss of identity amongst those who attended these schools. However, the Indigenous culture persists today, and the fight for Native Rights is still ongoing and making progress and there is still the fight to retain their culture and tradition. The Residential Schools are a horror in the history of the United States and Canada, and it is important to study this to have a better insight into issues surrounding cultural diversity and identity in America.

Olivia Stock (Master 1 Anglais)

 

______________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

[1] Simpson, Land as pedagogy, 1–25.

[2] Excerpt from “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” Speech ; Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans. Source: Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction (1892), 46–59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880–1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260–271.

[3] Davin, Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, 10–11.

[4] Kaplan, The Anarchy of the Empire, Introduction.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Excerpt from “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” Speech ; Capt. Richard H. Pratt on the Education of Native Americans. Source: Official Report of the Nineteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction (1892), 46–59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880–1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260–271.

[7] All the photographs used in the first part of this paper are retrieved from Margolis’ study, Looking at discipline, Looking at labour.

[8] Margolis, Looking at discipline, Looking at labour, 59–67.

[9] Davin, Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds, 14.

[10] Teresa Evan Campbell et al. ‘Indian Boarding School Experience, Substance Use, and Mental Health among Urban Two-Spirit American Indian/Alaska Natives’

[11] Brenda Elias et al. ‘Trauma and suicide behaviour histories among a Canadian indigenous population: An empirical exploration of the potential role of Canada’s residential school system’

[12] Teresa Evan Campbell et al. ‘Indian Boarding School Experience, Substance Use, and Mental Health among Urban Two-Spirit American Indian/Alaska Natives’

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Chip Richie, ‘Our Spirits Don’t Speak English’

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

 

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Bibliography and Filmography

 

  1. Articles

– Blakmore Erin (2016) The Little-Know History of the forced Sterilization of Native American Women, JSTOR Daily

– Margolis, E. (2004). Looking at discipline, looking at labour: photographic representations of Indian boarding schools, Visual Studies, 19:1, 72-96, DOI:10.1080/1472586042000204861

– Rutecki Gregory (2010) Forced Sterilization of Native Americans, The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, Trinity International University, United States

– Simpson, L. B. (2014). Land as pedagogy: Nishnaabeg intelligence and rebellious transformation, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 13: 3, 1-25.

– Woodard, Stephanie (2011), South Dakota Boarding School Survivors Detail Sexual Abuse, Indian Country Today Media Network, New York, US

 

  1. Official Documents

Davin, N. (14th March, 1879). “Report on Industrial Schools for Indians and Half-Breeds” Canada Annual Report, Department of the Interior, Ottawa, Canada. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/cihm_03651

– Pratt, R. (1892). “The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites,” Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the “Friends of the Indian” 1880–1900. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973, 260–271.

 

  1. Documentary videos

– Chip Richie (director) (2008) ‘Our Spirits Don’t Speak English’ [movie]. United States: Rich-Heape Films

– Chruscicki Donata (direcor). (2015) Stolen Children- Residential School Survivors Speak Out[documentary]. United States: CBC Television Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdR9HcmiXLA

– Dornhelm Robert (director). (2011), Into the West [documentary]. United States: Spielberg Films/ TNT’s mini-series

– Douglas Ron (director). (2009), Unseen tears [documentary]. United States: IMBdPro


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