Analysis of 'They Called it Prairie Light'
Boarding schools have been in existence for thousands of years around the world, in many different countries and cultures. History tells us that most of them have operated with the main purpose of broadening the horizons for the youth that attended them. The main purpose of Indian boarding schools, like Chilocco, was to acculturate and assimilate Indian youth into the white dominant society (Lomawaima, 3). It is clear that most of the people that were involved in setting up the first Indian boarding schools, thought that assimilation and acculturation of Indian youth would indeed broaden the youth's horizons. Indians were thought to be uncivilized and primitive heathens. Hence, the crusade began to make the Indians more civilized by taking them away from their tribal families while they were young, and sending them away to boarding schools to learn the ways of civilized Americans. Broadening their horizons by having them absorbed "into our national life, with all the rights and privileges guaranteed to every other individual, the Indian to lose his identity as such, to give up his tribal relations and to be made to feel that he is an American citizen"(Lomawaima, 5). This all sounds quite noble if you were born white in the 1800's and raised as a Christian, Protestant, or Catholic, after all, you were the supreme beings of the era, and everyone should behave like you, including the Indians.
Well, as noble as it might have sounded to the white society at the time, history would paint a different picture in the proceeding decades. The Indian boarding schools were plagued with issues. The facilities lacked sanitary conditions, were overcrowded, and had low quality teaching staffs. The children that lived in them lacked proper medical care and were under nourished, over worked, poorly clothed, and harshly disciplined. Specifically, at Chilocco, there was a "military regiment, manual labor and enforced uniformity" (Lomawaima, 7 & 8).
Ironically, even though Chilocco had a strict regiment and a host of issues, many of the former students kept up correspondence with school officials that revealed an attachment and a high regard for the school. They wrote to let the school staff know of their employment, how their families were doing, or just to tell them that they missed the school. Many of them expressed that they would like to go back to the school(Lomawaima, 25). One would think, based on these letters, that Chilocco was successful in assimilating some of the Indian students or maybe it was a really nice school.
Why did some of the students wish to return to Chilocco after they left? It's obvious that the conditions at the school were not very good, yet some of them spoke of returning to the school. The youths that attended Chilocco came from poor families so the conditions at home were probably not very good either. In many cases Chilocco was the only choice they had to get an education. Some of them actually wanted to go to Chilocco for the reason of obtaining an education, although, most certainly they felt that it was their only choice and they had to go. Many of them spoke of being homesick and missing their families at first. But they soon built relationships with the other students and the other students became like family to them(Lomawaima, 44). These bonds were, no doubt, a contributing factor to why some of the youths wanted to return to the school. A larger contributing factor was the regimental life the students were subjected to while at Chilocco. Many of the youths wrote about the military like regiments that they were subjected to day in and day out. One student wrote "There were schedules all over the place. You had to have a schedule or you never would know where you belonged. It was hard when I left there because there were no schedules, there were no bells ringing and no whistles...
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