During the 20th century, boarding schools for Native Americans on the territory of the United States were a common phenomenon. They became a significant part of American Indian history and determined the modern Indian identity. In this essay, the history of Indian boarding schools, in general, and the history of Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, in particular, are examined. The purpose of this paper is to identify how and why they were established and how they affected students and their families.
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History of Indian Boarding Schools
The history of Indian boarding schools in the United States began at the end of the 19th century. The reason for their appearance is closely connected with a national policy that was characterized by three phenomena – mandatory education, scientific racism, and the necessity for the assimilation of minorities to “create uniform citizenries” (Dawson 81). The first Indian boarding school was the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania that was established in abandoned military barracks by Captain Richard H. Pratt in 1878 (Dawson 81). Empowered by the quote “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” he established the educational model that presupposed students’ separation from the influence of their native communities (Dawson 81). From the age of four, young Indians were forced to follow the American cultural mainstream through military discipline, and their contacts with families, relatives, and white students were substantively limited.
The U.S. government found the boarding schools model of education reasonable for the Indian population. During the next decades, it established more than 150 boarding schools (Dawson 82). By 1926, 27.361 Indian students were studying in 19 boarding schools placed outside the territories of reservations (Dawson 82). Over the 20th century, 100.000 Indians attended almost 500 boarding schools controlled by the government (Dawson 82). However, this model of education was immeasurably unsuccessful as boarding schools were inappropriately supplied by authorities due to racism. The institutions had insufficient food, constant shortages of funding, a lack of teaching supplies, and inappropriately trained staff (Dawson 82). Overcrowding and epidemics of multiple diseases frequently resulted in students’ officially unrecorded deaths.
Chilocco Indian School
Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, or Haworth Institute, was a federal off-reservation school for Native Americans. Established in 1883, in Oklahoma, it aimed to “civilize”, educate, Christianize, and transform Indian children (Lomawaima). By 1906, the school admitted children from multiple Indian tribes across the state, such as Cheyenne, Wichita, Arapaho, Pawnee, and Comanche (Lomawaima). After World War II, Chilocco Indian School became accessible to communities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Alaska (Lomawaima). Its goal was to erase indigenous practices and beliefs of Indians and dissolve their tribal identity.
Chilocco School followed the model established by Richard H. Pratt, and it used military discipline and focused on domestic and manual labor (Lomawaima). Students had insufficient nutrition and inappropriate health care, and they were physically and sexually abused. However, in 1928, the journalistic investigation concerning the mismanagement of the federal Indian Service revealed the school’s disastrous state (Lomawaima). Despite the slight improvements in the school’s curriculum, a significant number of student life’s aspects remained unchanged. Changing social conditions in the 1960s and 1970s and the constant critiques of Indian boarding schools resulted in the closure of Chilocco School in 1980 (Lomawaima). Its campus site currently belongs to a drug rehabilitation center.
Effects of Boarding Schools on Children and Families
The fundamental conclusion made from the history of Indian boarding schools in the oppression of peoples’ lives by their historical legacy. Boarding schools were the places of cultural loss and Indians’ persistence at the same time; they embodied agency and victimization for Native Americans (Davis 20). However, the uncovered discrimination by boarding schools and the educational model that focused on the cultural identity destruction triggered Indians’ cultural and political self-determination at the end of the 20th century (Davis 20). The intellectual and political context of the federal education system had a significant influence on Indian children and their families.
Boarding schools, educators, federal agents, and reformers conducted cultural, intellectual, and psychological wars against Native American students to destroy their identity and turn them into typical American citizens. School administrators changed students’ clothes, names, and diets cut their hair, introduced them to the unfamiliar conceptions of time and space, and achieved obedience through militaristic discipline and regimentation (Davis 20). School authorities prohibited cultural practices and tribal languages, and replace them with Christianity, the English language, athletic activities, and a traditional calendar to encourage patriotic citizenship. Students are taught manual labor and domestic skills that were appropriate to gender roles in American society. For Indian children, such practices led to their cultural alienation and confusion, resentment, and homesickness.
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Nevertheless, students and their families were not passive victims of the schools’ assimilation campaigns. Children and parental resistance took several forms and were characterized by specific activities. Despite the self-accommodation of multiple students to the cultural change process, the majority of young people resisted through secret strategies. They gave insulting nicknames to their professors, wrote anonymous manipulative letters to administrators, and covertly performed tribal traditions through dances, storytelling, and games. Radical methods of resistance included escapes from school, fighting, and arson against school property. Although children were isolated from their parents, home visits were highly restricted, and all contacts with relatives were limited, adults took an active part in the resistance against boarding schools. They refused to send their children to schools, complained to authorities about the educational experience of their children, reinforced tribal traditions during home visits, and concealed students who had escaped. The separation was unable to break family bonds, and parents passionately loved and protected their children, worried about their safety and health, and provided their connection with tribal culture, values, and beliefs.
Chilocco Indian School was one of these examples of the Indians’ cultural resistance while they were forced to destroy their identity. Despite all struggles, the majority of Chilocco’s alumni remember friendship and the bonds of love and loyalty that keep students together despite their tribal differences (Lomawaima). Moreover, some graduates used their education and experience received in the boarding school to become the leaders of their tribes, encourage the spread of local cultures, and protect their identity on local and national levels.
The reason for the boarding schools’ appearance is closely connected with a national policy that was characterized by mandatory education, scientific racism, and the necessity of the Indians’ assimilation. The first Indian boarding school was established in 1878, students were forced to follow the American cultural mainstream through military discipline, their contacts with families, relatives, and white students were substantively limited. Chilocco Indian Agricultural School was a federal off-reservation school for Native Americans. Established in 1883 in Oklahoma, it aimed to civilize, educate, Christianize, and transform Indian children until it was closed in 1980 due to changed social conditions. In general, boarding schools were the places of cultural loss and persistence at the same time, as Indian students and families were not the passive victims of the educational system’s oppression. Moreover, the uncovered discrimination by boarding schools and the educational model that focused on the cultural identity destruction triggered Indians’ cultural and political self-determination in the future.
Davis, Julie. “American Indian Boarding School Experiences: Recent Studies from Native Perspectives.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 15, no. 2, 2001, 20-22.
Dawson, Alexander S. “Histories and Memories of the Indian Boarding Schools in Mexico, Canada, and the United States.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 39, no. 5, 2012, pp. 80-99.
Lomawaima, K. Tsianina. “Chilocco Indian Agricultural School.” Oklahoma Historical Society, Web.