Type of paper: Essay

Topic: America, United States, Education, Identity, Students, Society, Wealth, People

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/02

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Indian Boarding Schools Essay

Many centuries before Christopher Columbus made the modern discovery of America a nomadic group of people had traveled to this region and inhabited it. They had traveled from Asia and landed at what is now known as Alaska between 30,000 to 13,000 B.C.E. These groups of people to whom the first tenancy of America can be attributed are now known as Native Americans or Indians and comprise about 1.5% of United States’ current population. Native Americans have endured many colonizers and attempts at colonizing them. First there were Spaniards, then English and then after independence the Caucasian Americans themselves. The attempts at assimilating and transforming Native Americans that occurred in the 18th and 19th century were very aggressive and are particularly important in the larger American context. The end of 18th century market a revolution in intellectual and discursive spheres of the American society and new paradigms in politics, philosophy and human rights emerged. These changes led to an uprising against the British culminating in the American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 and the independence of United States of America. The Native American microcosm had been rife with turbulence long before the American Revolution and had fought against disease, slave trade, displacement, colonists and inter-tribal conflicts and the disturbance situated in the Indian population had also contributed to the American Revolution. But while the rest of America moved towards legislation and ascertaining national identity and direction the situation for Indians did not improve and there existed a racial divide and strong animosity among the Indians for the Caucasians. Post-independence the Americans viewed Indians as an inferior race and what followed was usurping and misappropriation of land, war and failed treaties (Townsend, 5).
The condition of Indian’s remained concerning after that and their numbers dwindled when almost a hundred years later President Rutherford B. Hayes prompted a more aggressive and tactical strategy of dealing with the Indians. The only feasible way to deal with Native Indians was taken as their assimilation in to the American society and acculturation according to the Christian Americans. Even the associations and movements working on Indian’s behalf condoned and propagated this belief. Emerging from such mind set the Dawes Act was signed in 1887 (Townsend, 365). The Act was aimed at stripping the Indian of his Indian identity and employed such means as land allotment, religious conversion and education. All the means were in conflict with the basic tenets of the Indian ideology but were nevertheless pushed. One particular strategy under the educational approach was the establishment of boarding schools for Indians. Although one could argue that the intentions were not such, the boarding institutes were used not only as educational institutions but also as reformatories prompting one ward to thus express himself:

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

And another:

"If the Great Spirit had desired me
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 and different desires.

Each man is good

in the sight of the Great Spirit.

It is not necessary,

that eagles should be crows."
-Sitting Bull (Teton Sioux)
Analyzing the first quote one becomes aware of the conception of the author that educational institutes are the nourishment centers of the nation. Just like the stomach that digests food and allows its nutrients to be absorbed in the body the educational institute transforms the students into productive components of the society. This view, in a cursory glance seems to be positively oriented towards educational institutions but deeper analysis reveals its flaws. The author is effectively dehumanizing an individual reducing him to an ingredient to be absorbed in the cosmos of the nation. The identity, sense of self and the entire existence of the student has been nullified. This notion of objectifying humans seems inhumane as it was applied to the Indians. In institutions like The Carlisle Indian Boarding School the Indian students were stripped off their identity and cultural roots and forced to conform to the ideals of the Caucasian America (Trafzer, n.p.). The author of this quote, Henry Ward Beecher was one of the 13 children of Lyman Beecher many of whom went on to claim fame. Henry himself rose to prominence by championing controversial causes like abolition, Darwinism and women’s rights. But on the particular issue of Indians he maintained views that were misguidedly sympathetic. He had nothing against the individuals but their Indian identity he deemed uncivilized and wished for it to be transformed into the American civilized existence and that too through schooling and education (Applegate, n.p.).
The second poetic piece is the view of an Indian who had been deeply ingrained in his own society and culture. His poetry exhibits an acceptance and acknowledgement of others and distinct mindsets and also the wish that it be reciprocated. He assigns the differences in human beings to Greater powers and claims no superiority nor recognizes any. His analogy for his creed as eagles does show a certain pride in his culture and identity. Indeed the author, Sitting Bull was a deeply loyal Indian and had been engaged in conflicts and resistances. He also had a stint as a tribal chief and was murdered on suspicion of inciting unrest (Utley, n.p.).
The quotations of the two men when considered together make it clear that the white man had assumed an uncontested superiority over other races. African American population also suffered long before they could attain respectable status in the American society. The Indians on the other hand were largely assimilated and deprived of their Indian-ness. This fact is noteworthy considering the philosophical impetus behind the American Revolution and the influences of John Locke who propagated concepts like social contract, natural rights and human equality.
The negation of the ideological basis of American foundation is appalling as manifested by the strategy boarding schools applied in educating Indian children. Firstly the children were at times forcibly taken from their parent and were allowed minimal contact with their families. The disciplining at school was clearly driven by an identity negating agenda. The students were assigned new names and prohibited from using their native language. Their traditional clothing was taken and destroyed and modern research has established how deeply ingrained our identities are in our possessions (Belk, n.p.).
Modern day consumer research informs us that when we lose something a part of our self is diminished and we attempt to replenish it by consuming more. We fill up ourselves with possessions and infer our identity by this means (Ahuvia, 171). We also use possessions to infer other people’s identity so seeing that the students at Indian one can extrapolate and say that the identity of these pupils will have been brutally undermined as they were inducted into the schools and the young children would have consumed whatever was fed to them materially and intellectually. This would have made education and boarding schools a most effective transformation tool and hence the Indian would have been undermined and the White superiority bolstered.
In conclusion it seems that the educational means was the most effective means employed in assimilating the Indians into the larger American society but the mindset driving this assimilation seems worthy of contestation. The Whites assumed a natural superiority over an entire creed and in negation of the ideological tenets they ascribe to. This might have been for the betterment of America as a state but an entire faction of the society had to suffer loss of identity and self in the process which is disrespectful of humanity if not immoral.

Works cited

Ahuvia, Aaron C. "Beyond the extended self: Loved objects and consumers’ identity
narratives." Journal of consumer research 32.1 (2005): 171-184.
Applegate, Debby. The most famous man in America: The biography of Henry Ward Beecher.
Image, 2007.
Belk, Russell. Possessions and self. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 1988.
Trafzer, Clifford E., Jean A. Keller, and Lorene Sisquoc, eds. Boarding school blues: Revisiting
American Indian educational experiences. U of Nebraska Press, 2006.
Utley, Robert Marshall. The lance and the shield: The life and times of Sitting Bull. Random
House Digital, Inc., 1994.

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