Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations

Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations

Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations

Carlisle Indian Industrial School: Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations

Synopsis

The Carlisle Indian School (1879-1918) was an audacious educational experiment. Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, the school's founder and first superintendent, persuaded the federal government that training Native children to accept the white man's ways and values would be more efficient than fighting deadly battles. The result was that the last Indian war would be waged against Native children in the classroom.

More than 10,500 children from virtually every Native nation in the United States were taken from their homes and transported to Pennsylvania. Carlisle provided a blueprint for the federal Indian school system that was established across the United States and served as a model for many residential schools in Canada. The Carlisle experiment initiated patterns of dislocation and rupture far deeper and more profound and enduring than its initiators ever grasped.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School offers varied perspectives on the school by interweaving the voices of students' descendants, poets, and activists with cutting-edge research by Native and non-Native scholars. These contributions reveal the continuing impact and vitality of historical and collective memory, as well as the complex and enduring legacies of a school that still touches the lives of many Native Americans.

Excerpt

Jacqueline Fear-Segal and Susan D. Rose

Close to midnight on October 5, 1879, a train drew into the railroad station in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, carrying eighty-two Lakota children from the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian Agencies in Dakota Territory. They were the first contingent of students sent to the newly opened Carlisle Indian School to be made the subjects of an educational experiment that would soon be extended to include Native nations across the United States and Canada.

The children had traveled over a thousand miles by river and rail, and this great distance was fundamental to Carlisle’s mission. Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, the school’s founder and first superintendent, was determined to remove Native children as far aso strip them of all aspects of their traditional cultures, and to instruct them in the language, religion, behavior, and skills of mainstream white society. Pratt’s objective was to prepare Native youth for assimilation and American citizenship. He insisted that in schools like Carlisle this transformation could be achieved in a generation. An acting army officer, Pratt had secured government support to establish and run this first federally funded, off-reservation Indian boarding school. Carlisle provided the blueprint for the federal Indian school system that would be organized across the United States, with twenty-four analogous military-style, offreservation schools and similar boarding institutions on every reservation.

The federal government was entering the final stages of Native dispossession and North American conquest. By the time Carlisle opened its doors in 1879, most of the fighting was over. With Native nations now sequestered on reservations, Pratt and white Christian reformers, who called themselves “Friends of the Indian,” presented the policy of education and assimilation as a more enlightened and humane way to solve the nation’s intractable “Indian Problem.” Yet the purpose of the educa-

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