Legacy of federal policies in Indian country

Effects on Michigan tribal nations.

Following the passage of the Peace Policy, Richard Pratt, a veteran of the Indian Wars and a U.S. military officer opened the first official U.S. Government operated Indian boarding school in 1879 in the town of Carlisle, Pa. The school was named Carlisle Industrial Training School. Carlisle opened with 136 students attending, as said in American Indian Education: A History, authored by Jon Reyhner and Jeanne Eder. Soon after Carlisle’s opening the missionaries with federal support created several more off-reservation boarding schools across the Nation, said Reyhner and Edner. This type of educational institution was allowed to be created under the policy.

Captain Pratt felt the best way to assimilate and civilize the Indian communities was to strip the children of their culture. It was Pratt’s theory to “Kill the Indian Save the Man,” stated in Away from home: American Indian boarding school experiences. He knew in order to achieve his ultimate goal of assimilation, the children was where he had to begin to redefine in their minds what an Indian was, which was evil and dirty. He operated the boarding school in military regiment. According to the Amnesty International Magazine, “Government officials found the Carlisle model an appealing alternative to the costly military campaigns against Indians in the West. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) controlled 25 off-reservation boarding schools while churches ran 460 boarding and day schools on reservations with government funds.”

When the children first arrived at the boarding schools, they were subject to the cutting of their hair and forced to have their Indian names changed for two reasons –to indoctrinate them into the Christian religion and to change how they saw themselves. During this time the children in the boarding schools were often beaten, assaulted, sexually abused and tortured if they were found speaking their native language. Other methods of discipline were imposed on the children that would be considered torture in all essence of the word. Boarding school seasons: American Indian families said, “It was said that in order to destroy a culture their language must be the first thing to end.” There are also narratives from students who felt that their tenure wasn’t awful and had an opportunity to learn skills that helped prepare them for employment following graduation. The boarding school lasted until roughly 1983, with the closer of the last formal boarding school in Harbor Spring, Mich.

To continue learning about what Indian education polices that came next, please look for the next article of this series. To learn more about Government and Public Policy programs offered through Michigan State University Extension please contact Emily Proctor, Tribal Extension educator at (231)-439-8927 or proctor8@anr.msu.edu.

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