Grinde 2004

From Projecting Power


  • The education system was put in place to help the Native Americans get rid of their ways of life, customs, traditions and beliefs; it was used as a “mechanism to destroy traditional Native American ways.” There was never an option of adding the white man's customs to native tradition, rather the schools were used as a tool of completely wiping out the indigeneity of the indigenous peoples of North America. They went as far as institutionalizing the call for the eradication of Native languages.
  • In 1905, with Francis Leupp in charge, the new commissioner of Indian affairs under Theodore Roosevelt's administration, there was a new educational philosophy aimed at somewhat preserving culture and respect. But, this effort was still far from equality.
  • This education system was deemed as a failure, as it only furthered the genocidal practices and annihilation of Indigenous culture. With the Indian New Deal being passed in the 1930s, there was a federal abandonment of forced modernization. Rather, Natives were left with the choice of either assimilating into white, or “dominant” society, or to remain in their traditional ways.
  • In more modern times, there has been a push (although minor) to empower native communities. Yet their communities remain incredibly economically exploited for their resources.

US Policy Shift

  • By the end of the 19th century, genocidal policy loses traction as the Native American population is severely reduced.
  • New colonial policy aims to exterminate Native American culture through education.
  • "Civilizing" Policy has three corner stones: 1) Christianization. 2)Education 3)Instilling of Private property.
  • Policy was based off of the false premise that Native Americans had "no educational structures, no sense of property, and an inferior brand"(25).
  • Europeans perceived Native American education as primitive/nonexistent because it was centered around oral tradition.
  • In 1819, Congress established "Civilization Fund" believing that education could shape Native Americans into "civilized people".

Four Categories of Native American Schools:

  • 1) Reservation boarding schools, established and processed through the government. These schools often were completely funded by the American government and everyone who worked for the establishment were employed via the commissioner of Indian affairs. These commissioners were nominated by a Native agent.
  • 2) Reservation boarding schools established by religious organizations, often churches, and were contracted to educate at a specific per capita rate.
  • 3) Independent reservation boarding schools which were established by the government but operated under Native agents, as these schools were often located too far from federal government agencies.
  • 4) Mission reservation boarding schools which were established by religious organizations, with their own employees, independent of the government and Native agents.

White Christian Values Instilled in the Schools:

  • These values were often religiously motivated and had underlying efforts of white, assimilationist, capitalist and Christian values.These values included “let Jesus save you,” “have a Christian family with one wife for life,” Learn the value of a hard-earned dollar. Do not waste your money on giveaways. Be punctual," "go to church often and regularly,” and “do not go to Indian dances or to medicine men.”

Testimonial Confessions of Life in Reservation Boarding School:

  • An individual at the name of Sun Elk, was an attendee of Carlisle Indian School in the 1880s, where he summarized his experience. He said that the Natives were taught to believe that the “Indian ways” were bad and that they needed to be “civilized.” He explained the hypocrisy of the white man explaining to the Natives of alleged crimes that were committed against white people and the Natives being their perpetrators. Yet, he goes on to say that these were the same crimes he had seen committed against his people, with the white man being their perpetrator.

'Perceived Culture Superiority as a Motivating Factor

  • Primary advocate for policy was Captain Richard Henry Platt. Wanted to "Kill the Indian, save the man". (27)
  • Pratt's form of racism is cultural rather than racial. Pratt rejected the notion of inborn racial inferiority.
  • Wanted to replace traditional Native culture with values of dominant white society. Favored intermarriage.
  • Eliminated Native American language.

'Pivot in Early 20th Century

  • New educational philosophy allowed for some cultural preservation.
  • Personnel in Native American schools are generally bad. Control of schools allocated through spoils system.
  • However, Native Americans are blamed for failures of school.
  • By 1920s, clear that education had failed but also continued genocidal practices.
  • Indian New Deal under FDR in 1934. White policy makers do not grant Native Americans much self-determination but abandon the coercive aspects of "civilization" policies. Argue that Native Americans should have a choice whether to assimilate.
  • While ethnocide was abandoned in 1930s, Native Americans still exploited for economic resources.