Before Europeans arrived in North America, Indigenous peoples spoke more than three hundred languages and followed almost as many distinct belief systems and lifeways. But in childrearing, the different Indian societies had certain practices in common—including training for survival and teaching tribal traditions. The history of American Indian education from colonial times to the present is a story of how Euro-Americans disrupted and suppressed these common cultural practices, and how Indians actively pursued and preserved them.American Indian Education recounts that history from the earliest missionary and government attempts to Christianize and “civilize” Indian children to the most recent efforts to revitalize Native cultures and return control of schools to Indigenous peoples. Extensive firsthand testimony from teachers and students offers unique insight into the varying experiences of Indian education. Historians and educators Jon Reyhner and Jeanne Eder begin by discussing Indian childrearing practices and the work of colonial missionaries in New France (Canada), New England, Mexico, and California, then conduct readers through the full array of government programs aimed at educating Indian children. From the passage of the Civilization Act of 1819 to the formation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824 and the establishment of Indian reservations and vocation-oriented boarding schools, the authors frame Native education through federal policy eras: treaties, removal, assimilation, reorganization, termination, and self-determination. Thoroughly updated for this second edition, American Indian Education is the most comprehensive single-volume account, useful for students, educators, historians, activists, and public servants interested in the history and efficacy of educational reforms past and present.
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About the Author
Jon Reyhner is Professor of Education at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff. He has taught on the Navajo Reservation and served as a school administrator for the Blackfeet, Fort Peck, Havasupai, White Mountain Apache, and other communities. He is editor of Teaching Indigenous Students: Honoring Place, Community, and Culture.
Jeanne Eder (Dakota Sioux) is retired as Professor of History at the University of Alaska and is author of The Dakota Sioux and The Makah.
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COLONIAL MISSIONARIES AND THEIR SCHOOLS
Before the arrival of European colonists, North American tribes spoke more than three hundred languages, had different beliefs, and lived in different ways. But there were some similarities among all the tribes. The anthropologist George A. Pettitt (1946), for example, documented similarities in child-rearing practices. He found that training for survival was central to Native education. The struggle for survival taught the Indians humility. They understood that, contrary to the teachings of Christianity, humans did not hold dominion over the earth but must live in harmony with it. A Cree stated this philosophy thus: "The man who earns his subsistence from hunting, who survives, as the Indians say, from the land, depends on knowing where he must stand in the strangely efficient and mysterious balance that is arranged for the propagation of all life. ... In this scheme of things the man is not dominant; he is a mere survivor, like every other form of life" (quoted in Szasz 1988, 12). Agricultural tribes of the East and Southeast had a similar attitude toward growing corn, melons, and beans.
Knowledge of tribal traditions was another component of children's education. Through ceremonies, storytelling, and apprenticeship, children learned the lifeway of their parents. Play was yet another means to educate Indian children. Some games, called "the little brother of war," taught boys the skills necessary to handle weapons and developed physical endurance. Pretty Shield described to Frank Linderman (1932) how as a child, before the white people had changed Crow culture, she and her friends put up a tent and played at carrying out all the household activities she would later take on when she married. Children learned by observing, listening, and imitating.
The first European teachers of Indians were Christian missionaries who generally did not understand Indian childrearing practices. The Jesuit father Paul le Jeune wrote in 1634, "These Barbarians cannot bear to have any of their children punished, nor even scolded, not being able to refuse anything to a crying child. They carry this to such an extent that upon the slightest pretext they would take them away from us, before they were educated" (quoted in Thwaites 1896–1901, vol. 6, 153–54). Le Jeune wrote again in 1639 that "the Savages love their Children above all things" (Thwaites 1896–1901, vol. 16, 67). The Jesuit priest Joseph Jovency recorded in a book published in 1710, "They treat their children with wonderful affection, but they preserve no discipline, for they neither themselves correct them nor allow others to do so. Hence the impudence and savageness of the boys, which, after they have reached a vigorous age, breaks forth in all sorts of wickedness" (Thwaites 1896–1901, vol. 1, 277).
Missionaries sought to Christianize, civilize, and assimilate Indians into European culture. They criticized Indian cleanliness and ceremonies, but they were even more critical of the apparent lack of discipline among Indian children. Contrary to European practice, in many tribal cultures the use of corporal punishment to discipline children was unacceptable. Indian children were taught that to endure pain without showing emotion was a sign of maturity. Therefore, using pain as a form of punishment did not make sense. Flora Greg Iliff (1954, 144), who taught on the Havasupai and Hualapai Reservations starting in 1900, observed, "Physical punishment was seldom inflicted on a child. In all my experience I never saw an Indian parent strike a child. A whipped child loses courage, they said, and his soul withers and dwindles away until he dies, for the soul of a child is a tender thing and easily hurt." Instead, discipline was enforced through teasing, ostracism, and peer pressure. In addition, children were told stories about how people who violated tribal taboos were severely punished by supernatural powers.
Missionaries attempting to transform tribal societies rarely studied Native child-rearing practices and other customs before seeking to change them. Some learned one or more tribal languages, but few understood, must less appreciated, tribal cultures. Indian religions were viewed as false and the work of the devil. For most Indian students being taught by missionaries, the influence of the children's extended family far outweighed the influence of missionaries. Since this frustrated their efforts at conversion to Christianity and the European way of life, missionaries soon sought to separate Indian children from their parents by placing them in white homes or boarding schools. Missionaries had the most success when Indian societies began to disintegrate from the onslaught of war, alcohol, European diseases, and famine as increasing numbers of colonists dislocated Indians from ancestral homelands and ways of life.
In addition, missionaries represented one segment of the white frontier population. Indians were confused when other "Christians," and even some missionaries, cheated and sexually abused them and did not practice what the missionaries preached. The Sioux author and physician Charles Eastman (1915) felt that the real civilizing influences on the Indians were whiskey and gunpowder, with the result that Indians often learned the whites' worst habits. Missionaries repeatedly told Lewis Meriam (1932, 30), who headed an extensive study of the Indian Bureau (see chap. 8), that their "real difficulties" lay with "sinister white influences" rather than with the Indians.
After 1492, Spanish invaders sought both to exploit Indians through forced labor and to convert them to Catholicism. Whereas the English colonists who came later saw Indians as an impediment to settlement, the French and Spanish saw them as a cheap source of labor. The Spanish encomienda system gave the conquistadors grants of land, and local Indians went with the land in semislavery as the "spoils of conquest." According to the Law of Burgos of 1512, all Spaniards owning more than fifty Indians were required to provide for "the salvation of their souls ... and the conservation of their lives" (quoted in Heath 1972, 8). The Spanish government idealistically intended holders of land grants to civilize and Christianize "their" Indians, but the Spanish conquerors often worked the Indians to death in mines and fields in their rush to return to Spain with riches.
Bartolomé de Las Casas ( 1992), perhaps the first Catholic priest ordained in America, claimed that in the first fifty years of the Spanish conquest more than twelve million Indians died. He protested the mistreatment of Indians and their portrayal as irredeemable savages and fought against the encomienda system that he originally practiced himself. He believed Indians to be rational human beings with souls. In 1537 the pope gave them this recognition:
God created these simple people without evil and without guile. They are most obedient and faithful to their natural lords and the Christians whom they serve. ... Surely [they] would be most blessed in the world if only they worshipped the True God. ... [T]he Indians are truly men and ... they are not only capable of understanding the Catholic Faith, but according to our information, they desire exceedingly to receive it. (quoted in McAlister 1984, 154)
Unfortunately for the Indians, this liberal view of their humanity and optimistic view of their willingness to convert to Catholicism was more prominent among intellectuals in Europe than among colonists in the Americas. Yet the colonial attitude that Indians were savages, little or no better than animals, did not stop large-scale intermixing of races. Unlike the later English colonists, most of whom immigrated as family units and planned to settle permanently in the New World, many French and Spanish men came to make their fortunes and then return to Europe. Harold Driver (1969, 476–77) writes, "Since about 90 per cent of Spanish colonists were unmarried men, they cohabited with and married Indian women in large numbers. ... Although almost everyone in Mexico today is of mixed ancestry, the Indian genes that went into the mixture are about 80 per cent of the total." This intermixing created new groups of people, including the métis of Canada and the mestizos of the American Southwest and Central and South America.
Because of the failure of landowners to look after the education of Indians on their lands, in 1542 King Charles V of Spain transferred the responsibility to Catholic friars. The Spanish government's purpose was to Hispanicize (make Spaniards of) Indians, but friars sought to Christianize them. To separate Indians from both their nomadic way of life and the corrupting influence of frontier whites, the friars settled Indians around churches in a feudal pattern. When Pánfilo de Narváez took possession of the coast around Pensacola Bay, Florida, he had with him four Franciscan fathers who came to start missions. In 1568 the Jesuits established a school in Havana for Florida Indian youths (Indian Education 1969). Jesuits and Franciscan gray friars established several missions in what is now Florida after 1573 that lasted until the English attacked in 1703 and 1704.
Educational ethnographer Shirley Bryce Heath (1972) documents how in 1529 a secondary school for Indians was established in Mexico City. The Franciscan Bernardino de Sahagún learned to speak Náhuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and to appreciate their culture. In 1536, seventeen years before the University of Mexico was founded, he helped establish the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco for eighty Indian boys. It was supported by the Law of the Indies and was largely turned over to the Indians in 1545. Latin, the language of the Catholic Church, was taught through the medium of Náhuatl.
However, by 1595 the school was in ruins and taught only elementary subjects. Colonial administrators had found that whereas non-Spanish-speaking Indians were "humble," those who spoke Spanish and especially those who knew Latin were "impudent." The average Spanish layman "strenuously objected to the Indian's use of Spanish [for] Indians who learned Spanish threatened the social stratification system which assumed Spanish superiority and Indian inferiority" (Heath 1972, 43). On the other hand, a little education was seen as good: it motivated Indians to move to cities, where they could be further exploited.
In 1550 King Charles V ordered all Indians to learn Castilian Spanish. However, missionaries thought their work would be hindered if Indians were first taught Spanish, and a friar presented the case for Indigenous-language teaching to Charles V:
Your Majesty has ordered that these Indians learn the language of Castile. Can you understand that some Indians will never learn it, while others will learn it badly? After all, we know that although the languages of Castile and Portugal are almost the same, a Portuguese gentleman may spend thirty years in Castile and never learn the language. Then how are these people whose language is so different from ours and who have such elaborate ways of speaking ever to learn Castilian? It seems to me that Your Majesty should command that all the Indians learn the Mexican language [Náhuatl], for in every village there are many Indians who know this language and learn it easily, and many confess in it. (quoted in Heath 1972, 19)
Friars took over from the Aztecs the promotion of Náhuatl as a common Indian language; it was easier to teach and learn than Spanish, and there were not enough translators available for all the local Indigenous languages. The friars spoke of Náhuatl's "authority, stylistic variety, and expressiveness" (Heath 1972, 24) and of how Indians learned quickly how to write it in roman letters. Faced with these facts from the frontier, in 1570 King Philip III of Spain declared Náhuatl the official language of New Spain's Indians and ordered that the University of Mexico establish a chair of Náhuatl and that all clerics learn it. By then Franciscan friars had produced more than eighty grammars, vocabularies, catechisms, and scriptural translations in Mexico's Indigenous languages. Chroniclers from the sixteenth century wrote of friars who preached in as many as ten languages (Heath 1972).
In 1603 Philip revived his father's 1565 order that all missionaries learn the language of their charges. King Charles II again promoted Spanish for Indians in the 1690s but was not supported by either religious or lay colonial leaders. In 1728 descendants of Indian nobles asked the archbishop of Mexico City to reopen the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. Primary education of Indians was considered poor, and "precision in penmanship and Latin oratory" were considered the "supreme goals" (Heath 1972, 59).
After 1611 Jesuits established missions in present-day Maine, New York, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Canada, plus one in Louisiana that was reached by traveling down the Mississippi River. The Jesuit Relations of 1637 describe a Jesuit Indian seminary where students rose in the morning to say their prayers and then went to mass. After breakfast they were taught reading and writing followed by a brief recess, and then they were taught the catechism. More prayers and afternoon reading came after a midday dinner. Then there was a recreation period, supper, more prayers, and bed. Of the six young men who constituted the first class, two died of sickness after being "purged and bled," and one left the seminary. Both of the students who died had been involved in fights with Frenchmen. A priest claimed the students died from overeating (Thwaites 1896–1901, vol. 12, 49).
Early New Mexico and California
The first permanent mission in New Mexico was founded in 1598. Over the next three centuries nearly three hundred Franciscans, thirty-eight of whom were killed by Indians, served in the Southwest. The Pueblo Indians of the Southwest tended to be more agrarian and peaceful than those of the Northeast, but they did not take kindly to domination by the Spanish. When in 1599 Acoma Pueblo resisted a Spanish military expedition's demands for food, finally by armed resistance, Spanish retribution was drastic. An estimated 800 villagers were killed and 580 survivors placed on trial. The survivors were convicted of killing eleven Spaniards and two servants. Men over the age of twenty-five had one foot cut off and were sentenced to twenty years of servitude. Men between the ages of twelve and twenty-five and women over twelve were punished with twenty years of servitude. Two visiting Hopis had their right hands cut off (Knaut 1995).
Hopis opposed Franciscan missionaries who established a mission in Awatovi in 1629 and later at Shongopavi and Oraibi. An apostate from one of the Christian pueblos in New Mexico told the Hopis that "some Spaniards, whom they would meet shortly, were coming to burn their pueblos, steal their property and behead their children, and that other Spaniards with the tonsures and vestments were nothing but imposters and that they should not allow them to sprinkle water on their heads because they were certain to die from it" (quoted in Whiteley 1988, 17).
Records show there was good reason for the Hopis' hatred of missionaries, as savagery was widespread in New Mexican missions. Historian France V. Scholes (1937, 145) describes one occurrence in 1655 where "Indian captains" testified: "[A]n Oraibi Indian named Juan Cuna had been discovered in some act of idolatry. In the presence of the entire pueblo, Father Guerra gave him such a severe beating that 'he was bathed in blood.' Then, inside the church the friar administered a second beating, following which he took burning turpentine and larded the Indian's body from head to feet. Soon after receiving this brutal punishment the Indian died." The deep hostility the Pueblos felt toward colonists led to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, which resulted in the ousting of the Spanish from New Mexico until 1692 (Knaut 1995). When the Hopi pueblo of Awatovi took back Franciscan missionaries with the return of the Spanish, the other villages came together and destroyed it, killing all the men. The Hopis easily repulsed a 1701 Spanish punitive expedition (Whiteley 1998).
Father Junípero Serra founded the first Upper California mission in 1769 at San Diego. In 1808 there were nineteen California missions, and in 1823 twenty-one, stretching up the coast along El Camino Real (the Royal Road) from San Diego to just north of San Francisco. The Spanish government financed the Catholic missions to pacify the frontier and protect California from Russian encroachment. The missions reduced the cost of stationing soldiers in California by supplying them with food, which otherwise had to be shipped from Mexico at great expense (Jackson and Castillo 1995). Mission lands were held in common, and Spanish was the lingua franca. Agricultural training and religious instruction were important, as the missions were largely self-sufficient using Indian labor. Early Spanish mission efforts focused on reducción, the gathering of nomadic Indians onto a mission compound ruled by missionaries, as was practiced in Paraguay from 1610 to 1757. An unintended consequence of concentrating Indians into mission villages was a high death rate caused by new diseases brought from Europe.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations vii
List of Tables ix
Preface to the Second Edition xi
1 Colonial Missionaries and Their Schools 17
2 Treaties and Western Removal, 1776-1867 44
3 Reservations, 1867-1887 64
4 Allotment and Dependency, 1887-1923 88
5 Mission Schools 120
6 Government Boarding Schools 142
7 Students and Families 180
8 A New Deal 1923-1945 219
9 Termination and Relocation, 1945-1969 248
10 Self-Determination, 1969-1990 267
11 Higher Education 308
12 Language and Culture Revitalization, 1990-2017 326