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Tribal Boarding School: Influence on Ethnic Identity

For over 100 years, the United States school system has been the story of Native Americans. No Indian has gone unaffected by the consequences of this systematic institution. Millions of Indians have been forced into federal boarding schools, struggling to stay alive in unsanitary and disease infested conditions. Living on top of one another and sleeping in military style barracks. Children were totally removed from their families and heritage for extended periods of time, often for years. This photographic essay is a pictographic story of a culture of people whose lives where forever changed by this imposed system.

Beginning in 1879, Indian boarding schools were established across America starting on the east coast with Hampton Institute in Virginia, and Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania (Giago 1). The U.S. government took on the responsibility of Indian education as part of a treaty agreement (BIA ix, Ammon 10). The treaties were made in exchange for land; the U.S. government would provide medical, educational, and essential needs to the tribes (BIA ix). Captain Richard Pratt convinced parents on the Rosebud and Pine Ridge reservations in Dakota Territory to let the United States take boys and girls to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, over 1,500 miles away (Indian Country Diaries). Pratt was convinced that only by removing children from the supposedly corrupting tribal environment and by schooling them among white people could they assimilate into American life (Coleman 46). He was convinced that Indians only needed a “broad and enlarged liberty of opportunity and training to make them, with in the short space of a few years, a perfectly acceptable part of our population” (Fear-Segal 158). Pratt was granted permission to conduct this educational experiment to prove this theory (Fear-Segal 158). Carlisle closed in 1918, but for 39 years it became home away from home for thousands of Indian boys and girls of different tribal groups (Coleman 46). Pratt’s example caused a domino effect across the nation and by 1902 twenty-five off reservation boarding schools were built (Coleman 46). Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Native American young people were educated away from their families, roughly 10% of the total Indian population in 1900 (Indian Country Diaries). Above are pictures of Captain Richard Pratt and a map of the 25 off-reservation boarding schools. Pratt is posing very militaristic with his sword and hat. His stern look on his face implies a harsh discipline attitude. From the map you can see the distance between reservations and schools. Indian children were taken to the farthest boarding school from their reservation to prevent any children from running away and returning home (Coleman 46).

The school system set out to destroy century old traditions, cultures, inherent spirituality, and the native language of the people (Giago 4; Coleman 2). The goal was full assimilation of Indian children into American society and the eradication of Indian culture (BIA ix; Collins 467). Before and after photos were taken of the children to document savagery to civility, their hair was cut, clothes and names were changed all to reinforce inferiority with their ways of living (Collins 471). So at Carlisle, Americanization of clothes, values, language and deportment were linked to a “whitening” process that was used openly to assimilate the Indians (Fear-Segal 163). Photographs cleverly demonstrated that a Carlisle education brought not just crisp clothes, short hair, and a manly gaze but also a whiter skin (Fear-Segal 163). The careful use of front lighting and white powder, the photographer became skilled at presenting a subtle message of racial bleaching that was evident in photographs of groups as well as those of individuals (Fear-Segal 164). The above picture was taken as the children arrived a Carlisle in November of 1886 next to it is a photograph of the same...
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