NATIVE AMERICAN EDUCATION

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Education in Native American Societies:
A History of Neglect

Timothy Bateson

Southern New Hampshire University
 

*** The titles “Indian”, “American Indian”, and “Native American” will be used interchangeably. When the word “Indian” is used it is not a label or derogatory term, merely an abbreviated version of the full title. The cultural assimilation of American Indians is the biggest scar that the United States of America carries to this day, dating back to the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock. Four centuries of population decline in American Indians was due to America’s ignorance and avaricious ideas, all the while being blinded by Manifest Destiny. Native Americans were torn from their culture in an effort to be “Americanized”. They were seen as uncivilized, often looked at as beasts or heathens. American Indians have been yearning for economical and political equality, and they long for their Native identities, especially after being shoved into a corner for years upon years. Their languages and traditions were stripped long ago in the educational systems that the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) threw the Indians into. In this argument, information will be dispensed on the history of Native American education and what current issues that impact Native Indian education today. During the era of Andrew Jackson, the population of Indians in the westward expansion was known as the “Indian problem”. Imagine that, being a problem for just merely existing. The federal government established the Indian Bureau (BIA), an extended branch of the War Department to deal with this so-called “problem”. Under the BIA, if Native Americans could not be removed then they would be forced to become “civilized” (Reyhner, 1994). As if to say they were not a civilized race at all; suggesting something lower than a human identity, even though Americans were the ones to uproot American Indians who were already civilized and peaceful. Who were the Whites to come in and say what was civilized and what was not? Tribes were forced to agree on treaties written by the U.S. government. “Of some 400 treaties negotiated between tribes and the government before such treaty-making ended in 1871, 120 contained educational provisions to move Indians toward “civilization”” (Reyhner, 1994). These treaties promised land and property to the Indians, which would transform into the infamous term “reservations”. This is where the good ole’ saying, “Therein lies the rub” comes into play. Many of the requirements within the treaties focused on making American Indians into farmers. That is how the issue was dealt with, give the Indians a shovel and tell them how to use a tractor. That was the case for the adults, but for the children…that was another story. There are two coinciding cases that stuck out like diamonds in the rough throughout the conducted research for this composition: the Meriam Report (Meriam, 1928) in 1928 and Indian Education: A National Tragedy--A National Challenge (Special Subcommittee on Indian Education, 1969) in 1969 (Woodcock, 2001). The Meriam Report was a government appointed study that discovered many issues with the government’s treatment of its BIA schools. It concluded by stating: “The philosophy underlying the establishment of Indian boarding schools, that the way to “civilize” the Indian is to take Indian children, even very young children, as completely as possible away from their home and family life, is at variance with modern views of education and social work, which regard the home and family as essential social institutions from which it is generally undesirable to uproot children.” (Meriam, 1928) President Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933. Roosevelt took immediate action against the educational neglect of young Indians by appointing John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. John Collier was very vocal and valued Indian’s...