Native American Cultural Assimilation
Native American Cultural Assimilation from the Colonial Period to the Progressive October 2, 2011 Introduction Although the first European settlers in America could not have survived without their assistance, it was not long before the Native Americans were viewed as a problem population. They were an obstacle to the expansion plans of the colonial government and the same to the newly formed United States. The Native Americans were dealt with in various ways.
During expansion some were outright exterminated through war while others forcibly made to relocate to lands deemed less than ideal. The idea was to make them vanish – out of sight, out of mind. Though their numbers in terms of population and tribal groups dwindled, they persisted and continued to be a problem in the eyes of the federal government. In the latter part of the nineteenth century the United States government instituted a new way to wage war against the Native Americans. This involved assimilating their children through government-run boarding and day schools.
Federal policy-makers were sure that by giving the Native American children an American-style education, they would eventually evolve into “Americans” and return to their reservations, but forsaking their previous culture, traditions and way of thinking. The federal government assumed that as the aged died off and, with the children assimilated, within a few generations at most, there would be no need for reservations or Indian policy, thus accomplishing the original goal of making them vanish.
There is little doubt that assimilation through education failed on almost all fronts, but through my research I hope to uncover some positives for the Native American children, especially those affected by late nineteenth century Indian policy which removed them from their families and, in some cases, sent them into an alien world hundreds of miles away. Throughout the history of, especially, European imperialism, “the relationships between indigenous peoples and colonizers usually proceed through a series of phases. Generally speaking, the first phase involved the establishment of colonies which meant the disruption of Native societies and usually the displacement of people. In most cases, there was some degree of violence and if complete domination was not swift, treaties were drawn up by “resetting territorial boundaries in order to maintain a degree of order. ” Because resource and land acquisition was the main goal of the colonizers in the first place, treaties seldom lasted and violence continued. In most cases, the next phase in colonialism to lessen violence and restore order was to try assimilation. Assimilation could mean turning the indigenous population into a work force or perhaps a marginalized group of ‘others’ who speak the colonizers language…” As colonial expansion kept growing in North America, assimilation was attempted on several levels. Attempts were made at outright Native American removal from their lands and, when that did not work, religion was probably the most widespread “weapon” of the colonizers to subdue the Natives. Priests, Catholic and Protestant, (usually backed by an armed force) were more often than not unsuccessful in their attempts to force civilization on the Natives. 2] Assimilation by this means was further complicated because of competing religions. Natives who embraced Catholicism offered by French or Spanish colonizers further distanced themselves from British colonizers and vice versa. European wars of the 17th and 18th centuries between Catholic and Protestant powers carried over into the North American colonies and the Native Americans were situated in a no-win situation. As a result of victories in these wars, not only did 1. Holm, Tom. The Great Confusion in Indian Affairs. pp. 1-2. 2.
Findling and Thackeray, eds. Events that Changed America in the Seventeenth Century. p. 72. the British resent Native Americans who fought against them in the wars, they crept deeper into Native American territory until their defeat in the American Revolution.  Now, what had been colonial expansion in America turned into national expansion of the newly created United States. As the eighteenth-century came to a close and the major players in expansion had changed, policy toward Native Americans stayed essentially the same it had been under the British.
Early in the nineteenth-century and the Louisiana Purchase in hand,”… (Thomas) Jefferson, much as he struggled with the issue (Indian policy), could simply not envision a future for the United States that included a place for ‘Indians as Indians. ’ As president, Jefferson tried to design an Indian policy that would humanely assimilate Native Americans into the new republic, but his vision of national expansion turned out not to have any room for Native Americans.  Those who refused or resisted assimilation would be forcibly pushed westward to lands deemed unfit for anything by most Americans.  As expansion increased further West, the Native Americans faced another subtle weapon in addition to religion from the government in its attempt to subdue them – American-style education. Years of violence, forced removal to Indian Territory and forced religious indoctrination had failed to solve what the federal government referred to as “the Indian problem.  the Native Americans may not have flourished in their new land, but they survived and would not go away. As a result, American policy shifted from trying to vanquish the Indians to trying to make them vanish. Starting as an experiment in the early nineteenth-century and continuing until it became 3. Hightower-Langston, Donna. Native American World. p. 365. 4. Conn, Steven. History’s Shadow. p. 3. 5. Garrison, Tim Alan. The Legal Ideology of Removal. p. 7. 6. Ninkovich, Frank. Global Dawn. p. 185. olicy in the last quarter of the century, new Indian policy would be to extinguish Native American cultures through an American-style education of the young. The thinking was, educate the Native American children to American culture to assimilate them and, for the time being, contend with the adults on reservations. The idea behind this was, after a few generations, the adults would die off and the new generations of American educated, assimilated “citizens” would survive, but not their old cultures and ways of life.
The balance of this paper will focus on the assimilation through education policy. “In 1794 the nation made its first Indian treaty specifically mentioning education, and many more treaties would contain similar offers and even demands for compulsory schooling of tribal children. In 1819 Congress provided a specific ‘civilization fund’ of $10,000 for the ‘uplift’ of Indians, and the assimilationist campaign continued to employ legislation, treaty making (until 1871), and other expedients to achieve its goals.
Initially the United States government through its office/ Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), depended upon Christian missionary societies, but by the later nineteenth century the government dominated the educational effort, having established a loose system of hundreds of day schools, on-reservation boarding schools, and off-reservation boarding schools, BIA and missionary schools together to Christianize, ‘civilize’, and Americanize Indian children: the rigidly ethnocentric curriculum aimed to strip them of tribal cultures, languages, and spiritual concepts and turn them into ‘cultural brokers’ who would carry the new order back to their own peoples. ” 7. Coleman, Michael C.
American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling. pp. 1-2. The idea of targeting Native American children for ’civilization training’ actually began in the seventeenth-century in New England where Native children were separated from their families and situated in “praying towns. ” A Christian education was aimed at the children “because they (the colonists) believed (Native American) adults were too set in their ways to become Christianized. ” From this early attempt at assimilation through education, Native American education developed into fairly formal on-reservation schools run by churches and missionary societies, with limited funding by Congress.
These schools were made possible after such actions as the Indian Removal Act which concentrated Native Americans in Indian territories and under somewhat more control of the federal government. These mostly denominational schools offered the only American-style, limited as it was, education until after the American Civil War. “… after the conflict (Civil War) the nation developed the Peace Policy, an approach that gave schools a renewed prominence. The carnage of the war encouraged reformers to find new ways to deal with Native nations other than warfare. ” Under this peace, the federal government was to provide the necessary funding for “schools, administrators, and teachers. ” There was some funding for the policy by Congress, but not nearly enough.
With limited funding, day schools were established on reservations. One-room schools were the norm where “government officials encouraged a curriculum of academic and vocational subjects, and sometimes the Office of Indian Affairs paid a reservation carpenter, farmer, or blacksmith to offer courses. ” 8. Keller, Ruether, eds. Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. pp. 97-8. 9. Trafzer, Keller and Sisquoc, eds. Boarding School Blues. p. 11. 10. ibid. p. 11. 11. ibid. p. 12. About the same time these one-room schools were being established, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Edward P. Smith submitted his annual report favoring boarding schools over day schools.
In his report “Smith stated that the use of English and the elimination of Native languages was the key to assimilation and civilization. ” In a plan for national system of Indian schools (October 18890 sent to the Secretary of the Interior, a successor of Smith’s, Thomas J. Morgan, offered the following: When we speak of the education of the Indians, we mean that comprehensive system of training and instruction which will convert them into American citizens, put within their reach the blessings which the rest of us enjoy, and enable them to compete successfully with the white man on his own ground and with his own methods.
Education is to be the medium through which the rising generation of Indians are to be brought into fraternal and harmonious relationship with their white fellow citizens, and with them enjoy the sweets of refined homes, the delight of social intercourse, the emoluments of commerce and trade, the advantages of travel, together with the pleasures that come from literature, science, and philosophy, and the solace and stimulus afforded by a true religion.  Carlisle Indian Industrial School Ten years prior to Commissioner Morgan’s report, Richard Henry Pratt, a former United States Army officer who had commanded a unit of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” and 12. Trafzer, Keller and Sisquoc, eds. Boarding School Blues. p. 12. 13.
Prucha, Francis Paul. Documents of United States Indian Policy. p. 177. Indian scouts in Indian Territory following the Civil War, began his own quest of assimilation through education. In 1879, he “secured the permission of the Secretary of the Interior, Carl Shurz, and Secretary of the War Department McCrary to use a deserted military base as the site of his school. ” Using this site in Pennsylvania, he felt that he could take Native American children from the reservations and by distancing them from tribal influences, turn them into Americans. With the site secured and community support behind him, the next step was to recruit students.
He headed to the Dakota Territory where he was tasked to bring back Native American children to Carlisle. Aided by a teacher/interpreter, Pratt was able to bring back the first class of 82 students. Unfortunately, when he got back to Pennsylvania, necessary basic living supplies previously promised to them by the Bureau of Indian Affairs were not to be found. “The children slept on the floor in blankets. ” In time, some funding was secured privately from “former abolitionists and Quakers who were eager to be involved in his success and who often visited the school. ” Using his military background, the school (for both boys and girls) was modeled after a military academy.
Instilling discipline and a sense of “time” was important to Pratt if he was to make progress with the children and, as one of his former teachers commented on the children, “they have been systematically taught self-repression. ” Although that first recruiting class consisted of only 82 students, by the time the school was at full operating capacity (the school survived 39 years), enrollment averaged 1000 students.  14. Landis, Barbara. “Carlisle Indian Industrial School History. ” http://home. epix. net/~ Landis/histry. html 15. ibid. 16. ibid. 17. ibid. Other Indian Schools Similar types of federal Indian boarding schools were located in the West. They may have been physically closer to reservations, but had the same ideals and philosophy of Carlisle.
With military-type discipline, children were ‘encouraged’ to leave their Native American culture behind and accept Americanization. One of the best known of these schools, the Haskell Indian Institute, was located in Lawrence , Kansas.  It differed from most Indian schools in the East in that, after a few years (and graduates) it, like other western Indian schools began to staff itself with former students in teacher and, in some cases, administrative roles.  Another Native American school of note was the Flandreau Indian School, opened in 1893 in eastern South Dakota primarily for Ojibwe and Dakota students in its early years.  Like Haskell, its main function was industrial education for boys and domestic science for girls.
No matter which school the children attended, Carlisle, Haskell, or Flandreau, there were common problems faced by the children: “initiation (into the white man’s universe), discipline, and punishment, along with overall problems – and achievements – of pupil adjustment. ”[ Some children absolutely resisted Americanization – a favorite form of resistance was arson and those who, at least on the face of it, accepted “the white man’s ways” were often subjected to rejection by their peers or elders or suspicion by non-Indians. 18. Warren, Kim Cary. The Quest for Citizenship. p. 15. 19. ibid. p. 15. 20. Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons. p. 7. 21. Coleman, Michael C. American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling. p. 8. Conclusion
Throughout my research there was a common theme in the sources I used – one group trying to impose its will on another. I realize that most of this paper has seemed like an indictment against, first, the European colonizers, then the European-American expansionists and, finally, the Americans in their treatment of Native American peoples, despite what may have seemed, at least some of the time, noble intentions. Sobeit. Actions by Native Americans against non-Native Americans have almost always been reactionary. Throughout history this was evident. In early colonial America, fighting between the French and English (initially in Europe and other parts of the world) spilled over into North America ‘to the contested margins of their empires. Native Americans in league with the French initiated what became King William’s War when they helped massacre British settlers of Schenectady, New York, on February 9, 1690.  The Native American motive for participating probably was not to see further expansion of French territory into Native American land, but more likely a response to years of violence committed by the British toward them. Moving ahead a couple of centuries, it seemed like the united States government still held to the mindset that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,’ not necessarily dead in a physical sense, but dead in a cultural sense. Continued expansion westward was problematic for the federal government because every time there was another “push”, there always seemed to be Native Americans in its way.
Violence in many forms against the Native Americans to try to vanquish them had little success, so new policy, though experimental at first, was implemented in the nineteenth-century and gained support of so-called reformers. The new 22. Bobrick, Benson. Angel in the Whirlwind. pp. 18-19 policy was designed, not to vanquish the Native Americans, but make them vanish. To make them vanish, again not so much physically, but culturally, the federal government adopted policies demanding assimilation. This assimilation would be accomplished by educating the Native American young in a way that would “Americanize” them. After their Americanization the young would take their training either back to the reservation or mainstream America, leaving their Indian culture behind, thus making the Indian culture gradually vanish.
To this end, “the federal government began its boarding school program for Native Americans during the late nineteenth-century as part of a crusade by a coalition of reformers who aimed to assimilate Native Americans into dominant Anglo-Protestant society through education. With a fervor that was partly evangelical and partly militaristic, the creators of the boarding school system hoped that through education, they could bring about a mass cultural conversion by waging war upon Native American identities and cultural memories. ” The negatives of the new Native American assimilation/education program far outweighed the positives. The Native American children were cast into what was essentially a whole new world very alien to them. One seemingly small example of this change was the wearing of shoes.
Some children had never worn shoes in their lives, but were suddenly forced to wear them. The children were disciplined harshly for speaking anything but English in the schools; harassed by peers, reservation elders and, sometimes, suspicious non-American Indians depending on the degree they accepted assimilation; taught trades and skills that were becoming obsolete; and, probably worst of all, so psychologically confused, many were later unable to function on the reservation or in the white man’s world. 23. Bloom, John. To Show What an Indian Can Do. p. xii On the positive side of boarding schools, many children were removed from situations of abject poverty and given room and board.
The food and living arrangements were totally foreign to them, but it was better than they had previously known. Moving the children from the reservations also kept them quarantined from the disease prevalent there. One of the benefits of completing their boarding school experience was that many graduates later began to staff the schools, especially in the West, somewhat lessening “white” influence and the school’s ability (and will) to make cultures and ways completely disappear, a positive for the Native Americans, but a prime example of the failure of the schools to carry out federal policy. Though most of the education the children was rudimentary, at best, but in some cases students embraced learning and took their education to the next level.
They went on to more formal schools and used their training and education back on the reservations to become leaders with a better understanding of the Native American/American relationship, while others infiltrated local, territorial, state or federal Indian agencies once manned only by white bureaucrats, most who were ignorant when it came to dealing with Native American problems. Assimilation had failed as a governmental policy and, as more and more educated Native Americans left the reservations and adapted to the white world, while retaining fundamental culture and ways, and was replaced by acculturation. Acculturation was not a federal policy, it describes a necessary survival tool used by the Native American to preserve what little was left of their cultures and ways of life.
Instead of their educations making them subservient to their master (the federal government), education allowed those Native Americans with the desire and wit to attain respect. Gaining this respect from both their own people, as well as the “white’ American people took time, but with it came, little by little, more agency and the ability, right and courage to have a say in how their lives were to play out. As bad a reputation as they have had in the past and even to this day, the fact that reservations still exist shows the unwillingness of some Native Americans to let their traditions die. The popularity of Indian art, jewelry and music serves to keep the cultures going.
Just as the early settlers of the West found out, they are everywhere, though in decreasing numbers, and will not go away. Works Cited 1. Bloom, John. To Show What an Indian Can Do: Sports at Native American Boarding Schools. Minneapolis, MN, USA, University of Minnesota Press, 2000. http://site. ebrary. com/lib/apus/Doc? id=10151303 2. Bobrick, Benson. Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. New York, NY, USA, Penguin Books, 1998. 3. Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons; American Indian Families, 1900-1940. Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. http://site. ebrary. com/lib/apus/Doc? id=10015709 4. Coleman, Michael C. American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling: A Comparative Study.
Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. http://www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=184858 5. Conn, Steven. History’s Shadow: Native Americans and Historical Consciousness in the Nineteenth Century. Chicago, Il, USA: University of Chicago Press, 2004. http://www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=262649 6. Findling, John E. and Frank W. Thackeray, eds. Events that Changed America through the Seventeenth Century. Westport, CT, USA: Greenwood Press, 2000. http://www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=77716 7. Garrison, Tim Alan.
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Keller, Rosemary Skinner, Rosemary Radford Ruether and Marie Cantlon, eds. Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America. Bloomington, IN, USA: Indiana University Press, 2006. http://www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=171513 11. Landis, Barbara. “Carlisle Indian Industrial School History. ” http://home. epix. net/~landis/histry. html 12. Ninkovich, Frank. Global dawn: the Cultural Foundation of American Internationalism, 1865-1890. Harvard University Press, 2009. http://site. ebrary. com/lib/apus/Doc? id=10402533 13. Prucha, Francis Paul, ed. Documents of United States Indian Policy.
Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. http://www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=53529 14. Trafzer, Clifford E. , Jean a. Keller and Lorene Sisquoc, eds. Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences. Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 2006. http;//www. netlibrary. com. ezproxy1. apus. edu/urlapi. asp? action=summary&v=1&bookid=162267 15. Warren, Kim Cary. The Quest For Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935. Chapel Hill, NC, The University of North Carolina Press, 2010. http://site. ebrary. com/lib/apus/Doc? id=10425421