Carlisle Indian Industrial School - History


From the earliest years of the republic, United States leaders struggled with the issues of integrating Native Americans into the European-based society, which they believed was superior and bound to dominate, especially with increasing immigration. Some leaders also hoped to protect the indigenous peoples and their distinct cultures. In the late 18th century, reformers, starting with George Washington and Henry Knox, supported educating native children, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Native Americans into the European-American society. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 promoted such policy by providing funding to societies (mostly religious) who worked on Native American improvement. Washington and Knox believed that Native Americans were equals but that their societies were inferior. Washington had a six-point plan for civilization which included,

  1. impartial justice toward Native Americans;
  2. regulated buying of Native American lands;
  3. promotion of commerce;
  4. promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society;
  5. presidential authority to give presents; and
  6. punishing those who violated Native American rights.
How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America — This opinion is probably more convenient than just. —Henry Knox to George Washington, 1790s.

The historian Robert Remini wrote that Native Americans were encouraged to think that "once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans." The United States appointed agents, such as Benjamin Hawkins, to live among the Native Americans and to teach them how to live like European Americans.

After the American Civil War and Indian Wars ended in the late 19th century, the government encouraged schools on the reservations, as well as expanded missionary activity. The schools on and near reservations were often run primarily by or affiliated with Christian missionaries. They often believed that children had to accept the Christian religion and struggled to suppress traditional ways. At this time United States society thought that Native American children needed to be acculturated to the general society to help them get ahead and have opportunities in the larger world.

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