Federal Fathers & Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Service, 1869-1933

By Cathleen D. Cahill | Go to book overview

5
An Indian Teacher among Indians

AMERICAN INDIAN LABOR IN THE INDIAN SERVICE

In the second decade of the twentieth century, Yavapai Apache activist Carlos Montezuma, a veteran of the Indian Service, accused Native people who worked for the government of being “Indians, but heartless of an Indian’s heart. Their souls are stupid and their hearts asleep.”1 Montezuma argued that while the problems faced by Native people were principally the fault of the government, Indian employees also deserved part of the blame. “The Indian Bureau is hanging by a thread of 6,000 employees, interwoven with whom are Indian employees,” he editorialized in his newspaper, Wassaja. “Indians have always been used by the Government to destroy other Indians, and it is the same old story here.”2

Not all Indigenous people agreed with Montezuma. Esther Burnett Horne, a Shoshone woman who had attended Haskell Indian School and moved on to teach in the Indian Service, affirmed that “the aim of the Indian Service was to divorce our people from our heritage and to assimilate us into the dominant culture,” but she added, “I was not in sympathy with this endeavor.” Instead, Horne worked to subvert the goals of assimilation by teaching her Native students to be proud of their Indigenous heritage. Her own experience as a boarding-school student had taught her the importance of having Native mentors who could do this. She wrote: “I wanted to provide [my students] with the same security and sense of self that my Indian teachers, Ruth [Muskrat Bronson (Cherokee)] and Ella [Deloria (Yankton Sioux)], had instilled in me.”3

Although they disagreed about Native people’s choices, Montezuma and Horne were in accord on one point: the government was indeed trying to use Indian employees to destroy tribal identity and further the project of assimi

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