Monday, April 10, 2017

American Indian Day & Boarding Schools by Paty Jager

Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania

There were many indignities bestowed upon the American Indian. One that I have researched for a historical western romance I’m writing is Indian schools.
In 1819, the U.S. government came up with the “Civilization fund”. This was a law providing “for the civilization of the Indian tribes adjoining the frontier settlements”.  This was a payment to churches, missions or anyone of good moral character to teach Indians agriculture suited to where the area they lived and teach the children reading, writing, and arithmetic.
By 1824, thirty-two missionary schools were operating among the tribes, teaching nine hundred children. Churches and missions jumped on the governments money to civilize the American Indian. At this time, the schools were day schools. The children remained with their families and came to the school for a portion of the day. They wore their own clothes but were usually given a name easier to pronounce.

During Indian treaties, grants were authorized to provide schools for the tribes the government wanted to befriend. 
The schools followed much the same pattern. Half of the day was spent on curriculum comprised of common school academic subjects – English language, arithmetic, history, geography, and the religion of the denomination of the mission. The other half of the day consisted of learning labors appropriate to the gender. Boys learned blacksmithing, woodworking, and agriculture. Girls learned cooking, dressmaking, and other domestic arts. 

1876 the BIA- Bureau of Indian Affairs- was established. This government agency was put in place to expand Indian schooling.  BIA started their own schools on reservations forcing out the missionaries.
Attendance at these schools was made mandatory by regulation on many reservations. Native American children aged six through sixteen had to attend. And these schools were boarding schools. They children had to cut their hair, give up their clothing to wear the government issued uniforms. They also could not speak their language, nor practice any spiritual leanings other than the church.

But the schools inside the reservations didn’t work. The children were still in close proximity to their families which kept them from becoming fully ensconced in the white language and values. The government moved the boarding schools away from the villages, putting them closer to agency headquarters. The children were only permitted to go home during the summer months and at Christmas. While they hoped this would stop the children having contact with native influences, they didn’t take into consideration parents visiting their children and speaking their language.
Powwow in Wallowa, Oregon
To keep the contact between student and parent as limited as possible, off-reservation boarding schools were built. The government had finally found a way to rid Indian children of their language and culture. In many cases, the children were sent hundreds of miles away from their family, language, and culture. This model for Indian schools came from what they had been learning about assimilating Indian prisoners to the Whiteman’s ways.

As with the other boarding schools, the children had to cut their hair. Hair to an American Indian is strength. They had to wear uniforms and their names were changed. 

Many Indian parents refused to send their children to the reservation schools.  There was widespread opposition to stealing their culture and their children. Indian agents had strong powers of persuasion. Rations were withheld from uncooperative families, and in cases where even the withholding of food would not persuade a parent to send their child to school, police were sent to take the children by force.
The off-reservation boarding schools were popular with the communities in which they resided. The schools provided employment for local residents, supplies were purchased from local merchants, and the students were a source of cheap labor for the owners of the surrounding farms. The program where the students were loaned to the farms to learn agriculture was called an “Outting”.

A good book that shows the life of American Indian children in a boarding school is: The Middle Five (Indian Schoolboys of the Omaha Tribe) by Francis La Flesche. 

To learn more about the government and Indian schools here are two books: American Indian Children at School, 1850-1930 by Michael C. Coleman and The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912 by Francis Purcha

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 30+ novels, dozen novellas, and short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award, EPPIE, Lorie, and RONE Award. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. This is what readers have to say about the Letters of Fate series- “...filled with romance, adventure and twists and turns.” “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope!”

 photo source: Public Domain,
powwow photo by Paty Jager

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