Indian Boarding Schools were implemented in the late 19th century they were designed to assimilate Indians in the American way of life. They believed if they could teach the Indians to read, write, and function within the white society that it would alleviate tensions between the Indians and the whites. In the Indian Boarding Schools Native Americans were not allowed to wear clothing from their tribes, speak in their native language, or practice any of their cultural beliefs. The primary purpose of Indian Boarding Schools was to remove the children of Native Americans from tribal areas and the teachings of their cultural beliefs to essentially kill out the Indian traditions. “Reformers hoped that an education grounded in Western academics and buttressed by vocational training and stern discipline would detribalize Native American children and, in so doing, lead to their Americanization.” (Townsend, 375). They believed that they could combat the brutality of the Native Americans by utilizing teachers and retraining the children in the ways of the whites. In this paper we will look at the reasoning for boarding schools and focus on two individuals that were against the boarding school methods.
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Indian Boarding Schools were designed and implemented in order to eradicate the Native American culture by utilizing “a standing army of schoolteachers, armed with ideas, winning victories by industrial training, and by the gospel of love and the gospel of work.” (Townsend, 375). The Indian office had started to build Boarding Schools on larger reservations, however with the school being on the reservations this allowed the children to still have interactions with their families and still be engrained with their culture. Even though the schools were pushing a different methodology to the children the ability for the children to speak in their own language and to participate in cultural traditions it was not an effective method to Americanize the children. Boarding Schools were being placed in various areas and were seemed to be a method to Americanize the Indians by most. There were two main characters that were against Indian Boarding schools and were vocal about their opposition Henry Ward Beecher and Sitting Bull both were against Indian Boarding Schools based on their own upbringing and life.
Henry Ward Beecher was a “liberal U.S. Congregational minister whose oratorical skill and social concern made him one of the most influential Protestant spokesmen of his time.” (Britannica.com, 2019). He became a very successful preacher and lecturer, and furthered his influence with writings in 1844, Seven Lectures to Young Men that were “vivid exhortations on the vices and dangers in a frontier community.” (Britannica.com, 2019). Beecher took over the Plymouth Church in 1847 where he would draw weekly crowds of over 2500 people. With the massive crowds that he drew it gave him an outlet to profess his view of topics that included national and international issues. Henry Beecher became an influential member when talking about the issues that were affecting the United States such as slavery, and the treatment of the Native Americans. On January 5,1861 the New York Times wrote an article about Beecher and his speech that was given to his congregation on January 4, 1861. In this article there is a written transcript of his speech in which he states “We have heaped up the accounts of their treacheries and cruelties, but we have not narrated the provocations. Every crime in the calendar of wrong, which a strong, people can commit against a weak one, has been committed by us. We have, wasted their substance, provoked their hostilities, and then chastised them for their wars. We have compelled them to peace ignominious, formed treaties only to be broken, filched their possessions. In our presence they have withered and wasted.” (nytimes.com, 2019). Beecher was not afraid to speak of the actions that he thought were wrong and not getting the attention that was needed in order to make a difference. Beecher was against the methods that were being utilized by the United States to try and Americanize the Native American population. “The common schools 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.” (Beecher). In this quote he is stating that the method being utilized to convert Indians is by swallowing them up in American teachings and traditions and not allowing them to practice their faith. With the eradication of one’s faith and teachings you tend to make these people slaves to a foreign concept of self being. Along with Beecher Sitting Bull was an important member in fighting against the Indian Boarding Schools.
Sitting Bull was another proponent against the use of Boarding Schools to Americanize tribal youth. Sitting Bull was an important member in the Sioux tribe and started to exert his influence when he was a young man. “He joined his first war party at age 14 and soon gained a reputation for fearlessness in battle. He became a leader of the powerful Strong Heart warrior society and, later, was a participant in the Silent Eaters, a select group concerned with tribal welfare.” (Britannica.com, 2019). During his time of fighting with the warriors of the tribe he faced the formidable whites in a few battles and that is when he vowed to never let his people be placed on reservations. He was involved in numerous skirmishes against the whites due to the invasion on their land and ruining of their hunting grounds which affected the Indian economy. Throughout the years the Sioux battled the whites but could not continue this course due the loses that were suffered during every skirmish. The Sioux ended up making Sitting Bull the Chief of the hunting Sioux in 1866 and was later named the principal chief of the Sioux in 1867.
“In 1868 the Sioux accepted peace with the U.S. government on the basis of the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie, which guaranteed the Sioux a reservation in what is now southwestern South Dakota.” (Britannica.com, 2019). Sitting Bull was trying to make sure the members of his tribe were safe and able to get the necessary items for survival in signing the treaty and moving to the reservation. When gold was found in the area of their reservation and they were forced to move this made Sitting Bull weary of the reservation system and of the government and their deals. Throughout numerous battles between the Sioux and the whites through the 1870’s Sitting Bull’s influence was raised by the “vision” he had of the battles. The battle of little bighorn was a swing in the perception of Sitting Bull because the tribe thought his magical powers brought them the victory. “Although Sitting Bull survived, an aroused and vengeful army forced him to flee to Canada.” (history.com, 2019). Sitting Bull returned to the United States in 1881 and was arrested and held by the army for years at Ft. Randall. Even though he was held as a prisoner he was still influential and utilized by the government for different reasons. Throughout his life he had different interactions with the whites and the United States government which would give him an insight into different aspects of political interactions between the tribes and the whites.
There were numerous people that were influential in the utilization of Boarding Schools for the Americanization of the Indian children. “In autumn 1879, Captain Richard Henry Pratt founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School, housed in outdated and unused military barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.” (Townsend, 375). Pratt believed that it was not the person but the cultural traditions that made Indians unable to coexist in the American society. He believed that if you removed the children from the tribal influence and immerse them in an American cultural setting you could remove the Indian from them and make them an American. In Pratts words “the schools curriculum, system of discipline, and acculturation by immersion would altogether ‘kill the Indian and save the man.’” (Townsend, 376). Sitting Bull believed the opposite of what was being professed by Pratt in the fact that if he was supposed to be a white man, he would have been made that way. This can be seen in his quote “If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man, 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). This is an important aspect that I believe both Sitting Bull and Henry Beecher were trying to get across to the American people of the time.
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Boarding Schools like Carlisle were on the rise after the few success stories that came from Carlisle. The utilization of boarding schools angered Indian parents, especially schools like Carlisle that were not located on the reservations. The utilization of removing children from their tribes and taking them to a boarding school made it easier for the Americanization of the young children. “Years passed with only the most minimal contact between parents and child” (Townsend, 379) and when the children finally went home now as adults, they were no longer the person they were when they were taken. Beecher and Sitting Bull were both had the same mindset but in different ideology of if they were meant to be white, they would have been created that way, since they were not why change what God created and assimilate them into another culture.
- Britannica, T. E. (2019, March 04). Henry Ward Beecher. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-Ward-Beecher
- HENRY WARD BEECHER’S DISCOURSE.; THE NORTH’S RESPONSIBILITY. SERMON. THIS NATION NO ONE TO STAND UP INDIANS. NATIONAL SIN-SLAVERY. PARTNER IN THE SLAVE SYSTEM. (1861, January 05). Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1861/01/05/archives/henry-ward-beechers-discourse-the-norths-responsibility-sermon-this.html
- Little, B. (2017, August 16). How Boarding Schools Tried to ‘Kill the Indian’ Through Assimilation. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/news/how-boarding-schools-tried-to-kill-the-indian-through-assimilation
- Editors, H. (2009, November 09). Sitting Bull. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/sitting-bull
- Britannica, T. E. (2019, April 30). Sitting Bull. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sitting-Bull
- Townsend, K. W. (2019). First Americans: A history of native peoples. New York, NY: Routledge.
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