Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

By Brenda J. Child | Go to book overview

2
From Reservation to Boarding School

Boarding school education came to the Ojibwe people, the Anishinaabe, during a turbulent period in their history. The General Allotment Act, passed in 1887, and subsequent legislation had worked to erode the traditional, communal method of tribal landholding in favor of individual ownership on reservations. Few reservations escaped allotment. One notable exception was that of the Red Lake band in Minnesota. As historian William Watts Folwell commented about Red Lake in 1930, "It is still Indian country."1 For tribes across the United States, as well for many Ojibwes, the results of allotment policies and withdrawal of the protective trust relationship were an often devastating loss of country. Ojibwes in the Upper Midwest, whose seasonal economies were already challenged after being removed to new territories or having their reservation holdings reduced, could ill afford the environmental destruction and dispossession that unfolded in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan after the turn of the century. Land fraud was rampant, and the interests of ecocidal timber companies dominated the political landscape of the woodlands. 2

By 1920, the once-luxuriant pine trees in the north had been cleared from many reservations. The land base of Ojibwes had declined precipitously, and new Euro-American landowners, beneficiaries of tribal losses, populated the region. Ojibwes were expected to settle down to work as small farmers. This was not a real possibility for many Indians. Lands were so diminished in size that nothing more than a small garden was feasible for most families. Tribes complained that the allotment process itself had been unfair, that high-quality and valuable land had been lost to Indians. Undeniably, remaining reservation lands were frequently far too poor to farm. For example, in Wisconsin during the 1920s, the Lac du Flambeau Reservation was so covered by stumps and brush that the cost per acre of removing the old growth and timber company debris would have exceeded the value of the land. Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwes, who were

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