Assimilation Versus Preservation
By the middle of the 19th century, the Indian way of life had begun to be disturbed through advancements into the West in many ways, the most important of which was the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Railroads pierced through the heart of the continent while slashing through Indian lands dividing the once open ranges of the Great Plains and splicing the economies of the East and West. The Indians had faced many battles and suffered great losses, but the fate of the Plains Indians was to be determined not by a battle with guns or bows and arrows, but by a change in policy by the American government. Ronald Takaki takes on the topic of the “Indian Question” in Chapter nine of his book A Different Mirror – A History of Multicultural America.
Francis A. Walker, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, sought to end the hostilities between the Indians and settlers by seeking what he thought to be a mutually beneficial means of interaction with the Indians. Walker believed that it was the responsibility of the government to ensure the survival of the Plains Indians by creating an environment that encouraged assimilation during the inevitable clash of cultures that would soon take place. Though he had only minimal first-hand experience through visiting and observing Indian culture once, Walker's devout belief in technology and the market as civilizing forces was the main driver behind his policy towards the Indians. It led to the formation of his idea to concentrate the Indian population onto one or two reservations to forcibly assimilate them into white culture by training them to perform industrial skills and entangle them in a society that would eventually grow up around them. Walker feared that if these measures were not taken immediately, Indians would grow to be out-of-date and incapable of merging with the modernized civilization that would encircle the Indian civilization....
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