Indian Education and the Carlisle Experiment

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was one of the first of its kind during a period when the United States Indian policy focused on assimilating Indians into mainstream American culture via the Dawes Act of 1887. Founded in 1879, the boarding school was designed to provide a basic education and skills that would prepare Indians for menial jobs. It turned out to be one of the darkest times in history for Native American people and had effects that are still felt in Native communities today.

The mid to late 1800's in the US saw a shifting of military power between Indians and the US government which facilitated the settlers' ability to clear land of Indians and make room for their own people. The military-only options to the “Indian problem” was too costly in financial and moral terms so there was a shift from a policy of removal to assimilation.

The industrial revolution triggered other socioeconomic and demographic changes in the country; changes that would convey conflicting messages to Indians. The Carlisle experiment's "curriculum of civilization" was conceived of within the context of this American sociopolitical and economic project, and while it was sold as a benevolent solution to the Indian problem, it was designed to serve itself more than it was to "help" Indians.

The goal of the assimilation policy was to strip Indians of their traditional cultures and replace them with the values and customs of the white European settlers.

At Carlisle, this was accomplished in numerous ways, that can be identified as having served a more sinister agenda for the United States: 1) the reprogramming of the most deeply held indigenous values for the purpose of 2), the further expropriation of Indian lands.

The plan was to insert an ideology aimed at changing the way Native Americans thought of land and their identity. To accomplish this, it was essential to elevate Protestant ideology (which infused Carlisle's curriculum) as "good" and everything else as "bad" or substandard, and to replace values based on communal life with those of the individual.

Once the values of individualism were firmly in place the Indian would learn to think in terms of "I" instead of "we." Individualism in a capitalist-based society leads to materialism. As the crafters of the Dawes Act knew, the individualization of the Indian was linked with Indian land dispossession and with the "wants" of a materialistic lifestyle firmly implanted, the Indian would automatically seek a "better" life beyond the reservation.

By the time it was repealed in 1934 the Dawes Act had resulted in the transfer of approximately two thirds of all Indian treaty lands into white possession. This, combined with a half-century of America's Indian boarding school policy contributed immensely to the other social problems that plagued Native American communities for generations to come.

Source: Indian Education and the Carlisle Experiment
Dina Gilio-Whitaker, about.com

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