On civilizing the American Indian

On civilizing the American Indian - 1 Introduction: An Army...

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1 Introduction: “An Army of Christian School-Teachers” In 1891, Merrill Gates, president of the Lake Mohonk Conference, declared that “the time for fighting the Indian tribes is passed.” What was needed, instead, Gates claimed, was an “army of Christian school-teachers.” That is the army that is going to win the victory. We are going to conquer barbarism, but we are going to do it by getting at the barbarism one by one. We are going to do it by the conquest of the individual man, woman, and child which leads to the truest civilization. We are going to conquer the Indians by a standing army of school-teachers, armed with ideas…and the gospel of love and the gospel of work. 1 The plan was fairly simple and straightforward. “Cannot civilization civilize?” former commissioner of Indian affairs, George E. Ellis, asked in 1882. 2 He, like so many others, believed it could. The solution was in education. Conquering this “Virgin Land” and its aboriginal peoples had been a rather bloody affair. There existed, however, a separate “intellectual” war waged in a gentler fashion. This war was ideological and psychological. It was waged, not with swords or muskets, but in classrooms, with neckties and Holy Bibles. The ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man,’ and the ‘Friends of the Indian’ movements of the 19 th century, as well as Richard Henry Pratt’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School, are all clear articulations of this sentiment that through education and ‘Americanization’ the native could peaceably exist within western civilization. Pratt’s school, in many ways, was the most explicit 1 Merrill Gates, “Proceedings of the Lake Mohonk Conference of Friends of the Indian 1891,” in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1891 (Washington: Government Prinitng Office, 1891), 114 2 George E. Ellis, The Red Man and the White Man in North America (Boston: Little Brown, 1882), 600.
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2 and successful manifestation of this concept. It represented a true conveyor belt of acculturation, devouring “savages” and dispensing “civilized” Americans. If we are to see history as a sum of all its many parts, a culmination of people and events and coincidence, then we, by the same logic, can consider each and every event as the product all its preceding events. The Carlisle Institute, then, is a prime example of this gradual evolution of an idea. It is the product of a policy founded on the shores of Plymouth rock, and upheld by George Washington onward. The cultural annihilation of the Native American belongs to a sentiment which is fundamentally and undeniably American. In tracing the conceptual genealogy of the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” movement, we unearth a distinctly American need to teach a way of life. The consistency and sheer durability of this mindset suggests something fundamental. Education as a mechanism for assimilation is the product of a broader, more sweeping American self-righteousness. It is marked by misplaced
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This note was uploaded on 02/21/2010 for the course FREN 2031 taught by Professor Davis,miles during the Spring '10 term at USC.

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On civilizing the American Indian - 1 Introduction: An Army...

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