|Date(s):||January 10, 1881|
|Tag(s):||Native American Schools, Henry p. Taawaite, Carlisle Indian School|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
Location: Carlisle, Pennsylvania
January 10, 1881 marked the date of the disciplinary hearing of Henry P. Taawaite, a Native American Comanche who was made to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school was led by Captain Richard Pratt, who had been the commanding officer of the 10th Calvary in the United States Army. Pratt had persuaded the Bureau of Indian Affairs to open the boarding school in 1879. The first students were volunteered by elders of various Dakota tribes, but later, Native American children would be made to attend the school. Off reservation boarding schools began in the early 1870s as the United States government stopped recognizing Native American territory as their own separate states. Many Native American children were taken from their families “for their own good” to be educated by whites in these boarding schools. The goal of these schools was to assimilate Native Americans to white language and customs.
Captain Richard Pratt used very harsh military-style discipline within the school. Pratt believed that the only way to make the Native American’s useful to society was to assimilate them to the ways and culture of the whites, removing all traces of their native heritage. Pratt was not at all concerned with what was best for the Indians or their families. Pratt’s very words were “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Henry P. Taawaite was a Native American student at the Carlisle School who was accused of refusing to complete his blacksmithing duties as given to him by Captain Richard Pratt. Taawaite reminisces of the school he once attended and his actions at Carlisle in his confession, “Then I come here to this Carlisle School to learn how to work and to make wagons, but when I try to work my heart is not strong that way. And all the time I think about the good friends
at Paris Hill and the good time I have there. Then too, I have been away from my home over five
years, and I want very much to see my people, So by thinking this way my heart got very bad, and
I would not do what Capt. Pratt wanted me to.”
It is evident by his confession that Taawaite does not want to be at the school and longs to be with his family that he loves dearly. Taawaite goes on to say that he is “very sorry” for his actions and eludes to the power that Pratt has over him. The leaders of these schools tried to fool fellow Americans into thinking that these schools were “helping these poor savages” and molding Native American children into productive members of society. These schools not only stripped Native American families of their children, but forced the children to cut their hair, wear European clothes, give up their religions, and forget their native heritage. Historian Cary Collins explores the conditions of the Carlisle Indian School and other Native American Boarding schools in her book “The Broken Crucible of Assimilation.” Collins argues that the poor conditions of these boarding schools, the lack of school funding, and the understaffing of these schools, and the stripping of young Native American children from their parents are proof that these boarding schools were like prisons in the eyes of the students. Collins also argues that the assimilationist view that Native American children had to be separated from their families and completely immersed in white culture in order to “civilize them” and further the white takeover of Native American land in the United States is one of the greatest injustices in American history. Collins supported her views as she wrote, “With a disturbing death rate, family separation, and heavy discipline, off-reservation boarding schools exacerbated rather than solved the Indian’s ‘problems’.” These boarding schools were just one of the many hardships Native Americans faced in the late 1800s and beyond. Native American schools run by the U.S. government still exist today, but do not practice the extremes of these early boarding schools. Native Americans are still fighting to have a voice and the freedom that was taken from them so long ago.