Thursday, November 15, 2018

1115 Case #17: Carlisle Indian Industrial School


(by Student #17 AMH 2010 1115)
            The first faction of people that inhabited America have been constantly affected by obscured misconceptions and demoralized by means of assimilation. Over time, the history of Native Americans has been objectified and moderated; representing the personal values of historians, and their fervent apathy toward the culture that the “white man” disembodied. Assimilation of Native American culture has been downplayed and normalized thought history despite the psychological, physical and spiritual violence committed against these indigenous tribes. Colonization of American Indians was condemned- the American Government began to implement policies to individualize the Indian and instill a sense of loyalty to the flag. Through the process of individualization, the culture as well as the identity of Native Americans was lost and the reparations regarding the devastation the “white man” caused express the evident trauma the Natives endured.
            I chose to begin my investigation surrounding the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Before beginning my research, I did not fully understand what the Carlisle School was, nor the implications of assimilation it embodied. Instead, I chose this topic based solely upon my extensive Indian heritage and fascination of the culture. My findings do not represent the Angiocentric perspective nor, the dramatized version; but rather the intent of Americans to sterilize the culture of the Natives, and safe the civilized men that lied dormant within them. I anticipated finding casualties and multiple means of torcher exhibited upon the Native children.  I also expected to discover the government was against or unaware of the crimes committed against Native America since America was founded on the basis of a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities.
I built the foundation of my research off a series of questions. In efforts to better understand what the Carlisle School was, I first asked myself the purpose and strategy of this educational experiment. Without much effort, the purpose of the Carlisle school was evident. By the mid 1800s, Native Americans were completely outnumbered by white Americans. The land in which Native Americans once had complete autonomy over was being stripped away from them, and due to the lack of unity between Indian Civilizations; the white man had inherently more power. Ultimately, the Western Expansion was the root of conflict between Americans and Indians and would later lead to the mandatory assimilation of the Indian culture. As I began to investigate more concerning the census roll I was given, I started my research on Ancestry. I used Ancestry as a means to learn about the Natives on the Census roll of 1911. Despite my digging, and greater understanding of the specified Indians, I still did not have a clear perception of the bigger picture- what the Carlisle School was. I relinquished my attempts of research through Ancestry. Quickly after I discovered, carlisleindiandickenson.edu, thus beginning my research. This particular website was filled with maps, pictures, and various other forms of documentation that expressed the condition as well as the facilities the Native children were forced to live in. Captain, Henry Richard Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian School, stated,. “In Indian civilization I am Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked”. Pratts goal was to sterilize Indian culture and brand them with loyalty to the American flag. It was commonly believed that the only good Indian was a dead one, but rather than killing the corpse, Pratt believed “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man”. For Henry Richard Pratt, complete assimilation of the Indian children was necessary in order to morph the Indians into the white society, while simultaneously annihilating the Native American culture. While learning about Captain, Henry Richard Pratt and his ideals, I discovered a variety of opinions that were in line with his. “The common schools are the stomachs of the country in which all people that come to us are assimilated within a generation. When a lion eats an ox, the lion does not become an ox, but the ox becomes a lion” (Henry Ward Beecher). The commonality between white Americans was that they were superior to the Natives in every aspect, and due to this they felt it was their duty to amend the Indians beliefs and transform their culture to mimic the ideals of the “white man”. In response the this, Sitting Bull, a Sioux Indian responded “If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. He put in your heart certain wishes and plans; in my heart he put other desires. Each man is good in the sight of Great Spirit. It is not necessary, that eagles be crows”. This contrast in statements between the white man and Sioux Indian represents not only their difference in ideals but also their inclinations. Where people that were in line with Beecher may believe more in assimilation no matter the means- Sitting Bull represents the beliefs of equality.
The next question I asked myself in order to facilitate my research was; what the strategy of assimilation was. The census roll I originally received was documentation of the Arapahoe Indian tribe located in Oklahoma however, the Carlisle Indian School is found in Pennsylvania. In my attempt to discover why these entities were kept separate, The National Park Service published a map depicting the location of Indian reservations in respect to Indian boarding schools. I was astonished to discover there was no overlap between the boarding schools and Indian reservations. I knew immediately the intent of this correlation was to remove the Indians from the Reservations in means to take their culture away from them entirely. Due to the distances between the Carlisle Indian school and the reservations; Native Americas children likely did not see their families often, if at all. It is also important to note that traveling conditions at this time were harsh. Because of the distance the Native children were forced to travel many would contract illnesses and die before reaching the boarding schools. I continued my research by asking- what kinds of people taught at these schools? I soon found myself overwhelmed and surrounded by documented Carlisle Indian School teacher reports. These teacher reports revealed the nature of the schooling. The teachers were white Americans, while the schools disciplinaries were Native Americans. This finding exposed to what extent assimilation was enforced. Since the teachers were seen as people of importance that had clear skills they were glorified by the students, and by having the Indians serve as disciplinaries they acted as a reminder of the “true nature” of a harsh and immoral people. The reports regarding the disciplinaries, showed just how brutal they were towards the children as well as the types of punishment the children endured. The facility was created during World War II and originally designed to be a Military Base, and consequently had military forms of discipline. While learning about forms of discipline I stumbled upon information regarding the guardhouse. I found documentation that expressed the need for the guardhouse to be demolished due to the conditions it permitted. When children misbehaved they were sent to the guardhouse to stay for extended periods of time. The guardhouse was essentially a form of torcher that employed a variance of mental and physical disturbances. Overall, the tactics used by the white Americans in efforts to assimilate the Natives was cruel and harsh, but nevertheless- effective.
            As I continued my research, I returned to questions I formed in the beginning of my examination. How did the government react to the assimilation of Indians? Did they support it? While searching for answers I came across a written request from Captain, Henry Richard Pratt to use the facility of the old military base in efforts to teach the Indians how to be “proper, civilized men”. In response to this request was the agreement, as well as signature of Teddy Roosevelt. I found this unearthing astonishing. This revealed that the government was not only completely aware of the assimilation that was taking place in Pennsylvania, but they were also cognizant of the conditions and torcher that took place as well. This revelation expresses how the American government during this time did not protect the rights of all citizens, and the Native Americans will later be recognized as a subgroup that will also greatly benefit during the Civil Rights Movement taking place later in history.
            Because of my vast Native American heritage, I felt a sincere connection to the children of the Carlisle school. Due to my connection, I began looking into the means of assimilation they endured. To my surprise I found an innumerable number of photographs taken before the Native American children reached the Carlisle school, and a duration of time after they had arrived. These pictures were demoralizing and disheartening. My previous knowledge of Native American culture allowed me to understand the symbolic representation behind everything they wore. Before entering the Carlisle Indian school some of these children were decorated in feathers, necklaces, furs and paints. After just a three, month time span, the children were stripped of their accessories and unrecognizable. I viewed a total of 23 before and after photos displaying the vast and abrupt change the Indians underwent. In history, photos are often taken and preserved when the ones taking the photo are proud of what they are doing. This aspect of the photos alone was the most chilling. Not only were white Americans destroying a culture, but they were also proud of what they were capable of accomplishing in such a small amount of time.
            When connecting all of the information I found there was one commonality- the extent in which white Americans would go to ensure Native Americans were comparable to them. Each document I discovered unearthed another means of assimilation or justification behind their actions. Typically, when people feel the need to overly justify their actions and predispositions they are covertly aware what they are doing is wrong. This concept I believe shines through the values and actions of the white Americans. The most meaningful aspect of the information I discovered were letters written from the Native American children to their parents back home in the reservations. These handwritten letters denote a combination of Native perspectives of the Indian students. This final discovery brought together all of the information I found through the eyes of the Native students- their reactions, their thoughts, their beliefs. They no longer related to their families and their cultures the same way as they did before they left. All of the evidence of assimilation I found had been officially proclaimed first hand, by the Indian students in the most heart wrenching way plausible. The families of the Native children no longer recognized their own kin.
This brought me to my final question- what are you if your culture is taken from you, and you are brainwashed into believing you are something you are not? This question resonated with me. These Indians had lost their sense of identity; rather than assimilation of the Indians they obfuscated them entirely. With no clear place, or sense of belonging, they were an easier body of people to take over. White Americans will continue to take advantage of this faction of people until the Civil Rights Act of 1950, and only then will the wrongdoings come to light. Americans commonly believed that “destiny had awarded them land to the Americas to develop” and that if the Indians “interfered with progress they should be pushed aside”. Rather than the Indians be seen as a body of people they were instead seen as an obstacle- an object. This last belief shows the lack of tolerance the foundation of America was built on. America was not founded off of the Melting Pot concept that you have been told in the past; America was founded off of the concept of conformity. This concept still resides in America today because of the different classes and races that America embodies. To this date Indian reservations still suffer and continue to be taken advantage of by the government, and consequently have not been granted full reparations for the actions against them.