During the 1800s, many people were starting to explore and settle in places around the eastern parts of the United States. The US government wanted to expand more westward, but they only had one problem. Native Americans had already been settled there years before they had ever arrived. To handle this, the government began to push Natives out of their land and send them more westward. To the government, this was a great thing. By getting more land, they would be bringing in benefits like money, power, and control. As the years went on, the US pushed them back more. Finally finding that this method wouldn’t work anymore, they created reservations. Reservations were areas of land that Native tribes lived on under government control. In 1871, the United States Congress made and passed the Indian Appropriations Act that forced all Native Americans to move into reserves. In these reserves, Natives were restricted and supervised, but Congress would soon take on a new level of control over their lives.
The government wanted to install a cultural assimilation program for all Native American children. In these programs, thousands of these children were taken from their reserves and subjected to attend boarding schools. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was one of the first boarding schools to be assimilated in 1879. Its founder, Richard Pratt, believed that this school would “save” Natives by removing their culture, beliefs, and identity. Pratt has also famously said, “kill the Indian in him and save the man”.
At these schools, Native children were forced to speak English, wear military-style clothes, cut their hair, and change their names. Anything that represented their true identity was stripped from them. They were also separated from their families for long periods of time and learned traditional subjects like the arts and sciences. With the continuation of these schools, over 20,000 children were attended by the 1920s. In only five years, that number had tripled. They suffered physical and sexual abuse often and many contracted sickness, never getting the chance to return home.
Assimilation left a huge stain on Native American culture from the 1860s to the 1970s. Generations of Native children have been affected by what their grandparents and parents experienced in these schools. Because these boarding schools forced children to forget their traditions and lifestyles, they were most likely not passed on to later generations. But, that doesn’t mean that future generations are doing nothing about it. Many families that were affected by cultural assimilation are now trying to reconnect with their ancestor’s traditions and values, showing that their oppressors failed in their goals of cultural erasure.