White Man's Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation

White Man's Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation

White Man's Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation

White Man's Club: Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation


Tens of thousands of Indian children filed through the gates of government schools to be trained as United States citizens. Part of a late-nineteenth-century campaign to eradicate Native cultures and communities, these institutions became arenas where whites debated the terms of Indian citizenship, but also where Native peoples resisted the power of white schooling and claimed new skills to protect and redefine tribal and Indian identities. In White Man's Club, schools for Native children are examined within the broad framework of race relations in the United States for the first time. Jacqueline Fear-Segal analyzes multiple schools and their differing agendas and engages with the conflicting white discourses of race that underlay their pedagogies. She argues that federal schools established to Americanize Native children did not achieve their purpose; instead they progressively racialized American Indians. A far-reaching and bold account of the larger issues at stake, White Man's Club challenges previous studies for overemphasizing the reformers' overtly optimistic assessment of the Indians' capacity for assimilation and contends that a covertly racial agenda characterized this educational venture from the start. Asking the reader to consider the legacy of nineteenth-century acculturation policies, White Man's Club incorporates the life stories and voices of Native students and traces the schools' powerful impact into the twenty-first century. Fear-Segal draws upon a rich array of source material. Traditional archival research is interwoven with analysis of maps, drawings, photographs, the built environment, and supplemented by oral and family histories. Creative use of new theoretical and interpretive perspectives brings fresh insights to the subject matter.


There was a feeling among our people that some of our young men
should be educated so that they could read and write and understand
what was written in the treaties and old documents in our possession.
… Or, as one chief put it, “it would enable us to use the club of white
man's wisdom against him in defense of our customs and our Mee
saw-mi as given us by the Great Spirit.

—Thomas Wildcat Alford, Civilization

THIS OLD SHAWNEE CHIEF, optimistic about the advantages to be gained from white schooling, uses “club” unambiguously. For him it is a weapon, a means to power he would like his people to acquire. Today, the reader of “white man's club” inevitably perceives it as a racial enclave, with implications of self-definition and self-assertion gained through restricted access and privilege. Nor is it inappropriate to read these implications back into the nineteenth century, where they serve as synecdochic representations of larger, national concerns; the 'club' extends to a society and a culture and access appears as acculturation with its own agendas and prohibitions while exclusion carries singular penalties.

In the final quarter of the nineteenth century, the federal government enrolled thousands of Native American children in white-run schools in a campaign to eradicate native cultures and communities and incorporate all Indians, as individuals, into the United States. This book explores how these schools, supposedly established to educate native children for citizenship, became arenas where whites debated the terms of that citizenship and where native peoples, struggling in this convoluted context against the total erasure of their cultures, claimed, adapted, or . . .

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