Native American Women’s Fight for Equal Education
The first Native American boarding school was instituted in 1860 by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA); the boarding school was established on the Yakima Reservation in the state of Washington. The Carlisle Indian School was the first off-reservation boarding school located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania established in 1879 (Lomawaima, 1993, pp. 229). Boarding schools were instituted throughout the United States to assist in the Indian problem. The federally funded boarding schools instituted were located off-reservation and served to civilize and Christianize these “savage” Indians. The time was the era of racial hierarchy, Great Chain of Being, and evolutionary theories. The general public’s belief was white men were superior to all races – white men were above white women who were superior to Native American men and then Native women. Individuals who were both non-white and female faced numerous obstacles that obstructed their progress in society. The federal law enforced Native Americans to assimilate into the white culture in addition to sending their children away to boarding schools. The intention of boarding schools was to create civilized Christian members of the American society; however, the reality of this process created further discontent between the societies.
Education is a determinate of status in the American society: the more years of education an individual receives, the greater the likelihood the individual will command greater occupational prestige and higher income (Simpson, 2001, pp. 63). Socioeconomics play a significant role in an individual’s educational structures. Native Americans were perceived as the lesser race, primitives incapable of maintaining a “normal life”. The education the Native Americans received through their boarding school experiences focused on diminishing Native traditions through acts of dominance and corporal punishment. The few Native Americans who did complete their education and attempt to move forward were not able to receive adequate work due to the lack of societal support. The Indian Civilization Fund Act of 1819 encouraged the formation of benevolent societies to educate Native American children and led to the formation of Indian boarding schools.
Historically, Native Americans have been mistreated, discriminated against, and forced to assimilate into the American society by diminishing their traditional roots. The Manifest Destiny drove the 19th century United States territorial expansion westward and entrenched the white citizens with the feeling of white superiority. This racial superiority ignored or simply ignored any notions concerning Native American rights (Hendrick, 1976, pp. 164). The majority of the white society perceived the Native Americans as a nuisance that needed to be eliminated. Lynching or enslaving Natives was not an uncommon practice and was socially accepted (Hendrick, 1976, pp. 164).
During the early 1800s, the federal government implemented policies aimed to acculturating and assimilating Native Americans into the European-American society. Educational programs were implemented to remove and distance Native American children from tribal influences in addition to receiving “proper education” that instilled ideas and values of European-American citizenship and civilization (Seniors, 2008, pp. 23). The 1893 court ruling increased pressure to keep Native children in boarding schools. It was not until the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that Native American parents gained the legal right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools. Assimilation into early federally funded boarding schools caused various psychological and physical toles on the young Native students.
Native American Boarding Schools
The Compulsory Attendance Law of 1891 forced many Native American children to attend American government-sponsored boarding schools (Seniors, 2008, pp. 23). Federal boarding schools forbade the Native American students from speaking their native tongue and religious practices (Lomawaima, 1993, pp. 227). The idea behind restricting the Native American students’ freedom was to domesticate the students by controlling the language used, appearance, and training received. Traditional Native foods were abandoned, forcing the students to acquire the food rites of white society, including the use of eating utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. To further civilize and Christianize the students, their traditional names were replaced by new European-American names; failure to do so led to public humiliation by teachers and administrators (Seniors, 2008, pp. 27). The federal law forced Native Americans to assimilate into the white society and forced their children to attend boarding schools that did not assimilate into the American “melting pot” but trained them to adopt the work discipline of the Protestant ethic and to accept their proper place in society as a marginal class (Lomawaima, 1993, pp. 236).
Gender discrimination is also a common occurrence within the Native boarding schools. Native American boarding schools were often operated by churches. Christianity governed gender relations at the schools, investing their energy in keeping the sexes apart. Federal boarding schools were allowed to implement policies and rules to dictate young Native American girls in their attire, hairstyles, demeanor, and posture (Lomawaima, 1993, pp. 229). Native American boys were required to cut off their traditional braids to weaken their native ties and blend into the typical American boy hairstyle.
The training these young women received was also gender-biased which followed the societal perceptions at the time. The girls were taught domestic duties such as cleaning, sewing clothing, laundry for future employment after they graduated from the school (Lomawaima, 1993, pp, 230). Educators taught the female Native students to conform to the ways of the white society by embracing new identities, skills and practices, new norms of appearance, and physical mannerism (Lomawaima, 1993, pp. 231).
Corporal punishment was seen as a useful tool in promoting the discipline necessary for assimilation (Trennert, 1989, pp. 595). The basic philosophy behind such actions rested on the assumption that if Native American children failed to modify their behaviors voluntarily, the infliction of pain by means of spanking, whipping, and beating was justified (Trennert, 1989, pp. 595). Corporal punishment was typical in the American home and school, however, within the Native American culture, discipline existed but not in the form known to the European-Americans (Trennert, 1989, pp. 596). Boarding schools relied heavily on the concept of discipline as they were often operated by church groups (Trennert, 1989, pp. 596). There are numerous cases of misconduct within the boarding schools as well as instances that have resulted in the death of Native American students.
Stewart Indian School
In Nevada, there is only one federally established Native American boarding school. In 1888, the Nevada Legislature passed a bill that authorized the sale of bonds to purchase land for an Indian boarding school. The Stewart Indian School is located in the Carson area and was named for Nevada’s first U.S. Senator, William Morris Stewart, who sponsored the national legislation creating this off-reservation boarding school. The Stewart Indian School was instituted in 1890 and operated for approximately ninety years. By 1919, approximately 400 students attended Stewart Indian School. The boarding school accommodated Native American students from the Nevada-based Washoe and Paiute tribes, along with the Hopi, Apache, Pima, Mohave, Walapai, Ute, Pipage, Coropah, and Tewa tribes (nps.gov). The Native American children were forced to attend the boarding school up to secondary school age.
Native American Teachers
In areas with less established tribal schools, Native Americans took up teaching under less hospitable circumstances. Students were more drawn to schooling when they encountered teachers who shared common cultural heritage (Gere, 2005, pp. 43). Native American teachers made it easier for their students to learn the language of the dominant culture as well as the academic subjects associated with the curriculum (Gere, 2005, pp. 60). By having a teacher who spoke their Native tongue, it was much easier for the students to learn the English language through translation (Gere, 2005, pp. 60). In addition to the academics, the students felt comfortable about their own tribal backgrounds with Native American teachers (Gere, 2005, pp. 60). The teachers were responsible for a wide variety of activities from sports, clubs, theater/literary productions, nurses, physicians, firefights and whatever else the community needed (Gere, 2005, pp. 61).
Beginning of 1876, Sarah Winnemucca, a Paiute member, taught at government boarding schools on the Malheur reservation, the Yakima reservation, and at Fort Vancouver (Gere, 2005, pp. 42). Although Winnemucca’s education had been less formal, she had been asked to leave the Catholic school she attended briefly due to the attitudes of the white parents towards Native Americans (Gere, 2005, pp. 42). Winnemucca educated herself through participating in political negotiations between the whites and Paiutes and serving as a translator (Gere, 2005, pp. 42). Winnemucca used her combination of formal and informal education to prepare her to teach and establish her own school, the Peabody Institute, located in Lovelock, Nevada, near the Pyramid Reservation after being denied a teaching position at a government-operated school (Gere, 2005, pp. 42).
The Peabody Institute was created by a Native American thus made it unacceptable to government bureaucrats to receive funding despite its successes (Gere, 2005, pp. 42). Both government policies of assimilation and long-standing stereotypical views of Native Americans made it impossible for the bureaucracy to “recognize” the Peabody Institute as an effective school (Gere, 2005, pp. 42). The government funding would have assured its survival however, due to the lack of funding, the Peabody Institute closed after four years.
Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala -Ša)
Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (Zitkala -Ša) spent the majority of her life advocating for Native American rights and offered a new perspective on the English-only policies initiated in Native American boarding schools by positioning English as the student’s “second tongue” (Gere, 2005, pp. 52). Bonnin taught at the Carlisle Indian School, however, left the school as it served as a hostile environment that continued the belief in the stereotypical perceptions of Native Americans and assimilation (Gere, 2005, pp. 51). The Carlisle director Richard Pratt and Bonnin disagreed fundamentally about Native American education; Pratt was known for wishing to “kill the Indian to save the man” thus rejected any attempt to incorporate Native culture in the curriculum (Gere, 2005, pp. 51). In the Pratt-dominated environment, Bonnin could not reconcile her desire to uphold and foster the cultural heritage of her people with the constraints under which she taught (Gere, 2005, pp. 51).
In 1902, Bonnin found a teaching position in a more hospitable environment on the Uintah Reservation in Utah where she and her husband remained until 1916 (Gere, 2005, pp. 52). On the Uintah Reservation, Boonin held various positions ranging from music class/school band, teaching at White Rocks School as well as served as the secretary of the Society of American Indians (SAI) (Gere, 2005, pp. 52). In addition to the reading/writing groups, she organized as well as assisting in the establishment of entrepreneurial activities (Gere, 2005, pp. 52). Bonnin’s passion for encouraging racial uplift was evident in her work with the Ute culture. She used her education to promote the preservation of the Ute culture by encouraging basket weaving and helping the tribe decipher and respond to bureaucratic texts sent to them by the whites (Gere, 2005, pp. 52). By fostering English literacy both within the classroom and community, Bonnin was able to help the Utes contend with the cash economy through basket making and a lunchroom (Gere, 2005, pp. 58).
Northern Ute Tribe
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican War and signed over to the United States control of California and adjacent regions from Mexico in 1848 (Duncan, 2000, pp. 185). Without Native American consent, Ute land was divided into territories of the United States under policy intended to supervise and “civilize” the Natives (Duncan, 2000, pp. 185). In 1847, members of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) arrived in the Salt Lake Valley under the leadership of Brigham Young (Duncan, 2000, 187). The Mormons had a particular interest with the Native Americans and a policy of converting the Natives in addition to encouraging them to become farmers (Duncan, 2000, pp. 187). As the Mormons expanded, they soon began to invade areas occupied by the Utes. With little regard to the Utes or their rights, the Mormons took Ute land as they saw fit. The attitudes of the Mormons towards the Utes were typical of other white newcomers throughout the West that perceived the land as theirs for the claiming (Duncan, 2000, pp. 187). Conflict arose as white settlers depleted the land of its natural resources and continued to invade Ute homeland (Duncan, 2000, pp. 188).
After 1850, Native American tribes agreed to give up part of their land holdings and settle in Indian reservations. Treaties were created to insure civilization for Native Americans and peace and safety for the whites (Duncan, 2000, pp. 197). Native Americans dealt with the federal government, rather than the states, and acted as trustee for the Natives, responsible for certain obligations (Duncan, 2000, pp. 197). The treaties the federal government used to “help” the Natives were written in English and not explained affectively thus putting the Native Americans at a disadvantage (Duncan, 2000, pp. 197).
One of the greatest resources for the Northern Ute people was the large amount of younger tribe members (Duncan, 2000, pp. 214). Education is important to the Northern Ute Tribe as it contributes to the development of the young tribal members. Within the Northern Ute education, the students are taught survival skills, daily rituals and practices, and the way of their people. The Utes were forced to uproot their lifestyle which was previously accustomed to the outdoors to fit the white man’s education, culture, and appearance. As the young Ute children were sent off to boarding schools, the school would measure their success based on how much Native American culture was erased from their minds and hearts (Duncan, 2000, pp. 215). The first school opened on the Uintah Reservation in 1874 operated for two years due to the lack of government funds (Duncan, 2000, pp. 215). Continuous efforts were made to reopen and build schools for Native American children on Native reservation, however, it continuously failed miserably (Duncan, 2000, pp. 215). The Johnson O’Malley Act of 1934 enabled the state of Utah, rather than individual school districts, to sign contracts with the Education Division of the BIA (Duncan, 2000, pp. 216).
Native American Education Today
Mainstream colleges and universities have struggled to accommodate Native American students as well as create a suitable environment to encourage perseverance towards earning a degree (Guillory ; Wolverton, 2008, pp. 58). Maintaining connections to home communities and attending tribal ceremonies is an important consideration Native student may consider when applying to a college (Guillory ; Wolverton, 2008, pp. 59). College administration and faculty who recognize the Native student’s desire to retain strong tribal identities in lieu of assimilating into mainstream colleges increase the student’s motivation to obtain a degree (Guillory ; Wolverton, 2008, pp. 59).
Traditional attitudes toward gendered task distributions may influence the child’s desire or ability to pursue a higher education. According to gender role socialization, children acquire the gender stereotypes and norms prevalent within families and educational institutions while developing a gender identity (Fleischmann et al, 2014, pp. 147). Native American cultures traditionally are male-dominated and focus on “traditional” gendered roles – men hunt/gathered, while women foraged for plants and berries in addition to caring for their young.
Today, there are public elementary, junior high, and high schools located within Uintah and Duchesne counties that accommodate both Utes and non-Indians (Duncan, 2000, pp. 216). Higher education options are also within traveling distance, including university and college extension centers (Duncan, 2000, pp. 216). While there continue to be cultural differences and inflexible school systems, tribal members are cautiously aware of their children’s educational needs with an increasing among of support for various educational programs through the Northern Ute Tribal Education Department (Duncan, 2000, pp. 217).
Since the restoration, Paiutes have held education as a high priority (Holt et al, 2006, pp. 150). Prior to 1981, approximately 40 percent of Paiute children dropped out of school by grade eight, and in ten years, only eight Paiutes attended college (Holt et al, 2006, pp. 150). In 1982, the Paiutes immediately hired a director of tribal education and by the spring of 1982, forty-four Paiutes were either attending college or vocational school (Holt et al, 2006, pp. 150). It was evident Paiute students were eager for their education. Unfortunately, roughly one in three had finished the degree or training program, and of those, only about half would be able to find work in their field (Holt et al, 2006, pp. 150). Paiutes who have earned their degree or finished their programs often had to move off the reservation to find work, however, Tribal leaders worried there would be little work available to the graduates based on the prejudice towards the Native Americans in southern Utah.
Education is a significant aspect of an individual’s status; prevalent in accomplishing the “American Dream”. Since Americans discovered the New Land, they have taken and mistreated Native Americans. In an era of white supremacy and racial hierarchy, Native Americans have had to overcome numerous obstacles to receive equal representation and education. Natives fought to be recognized as individuals in society rather than savage beings who needed American intervention. The Federal government’s early involvement with Native Americans attempted cultural genocide to eliminate the Native culture by forcing the Natives to assimilate into the white culture. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 allowed white settlers to move westward past the Mississippi River forcing the Natives to retreat from their homelands. The white settlers and the federal government perceived Natives as a pest that needed removal from the land. The Indian problem continued to be an issue; “removal” of these savages lead to more wars and blood costing the federal government too much money. Thus, shifted the federal government’s attempts of removal of Native Americans to assimilating the Natives into the civilized, Christian American ways.
Educational programs were implemented to civilize Native Americans to provide a “better” lifestyle than primitive lifestyle the Natives were accustomed to. Children were forced to attend boarding schools often off-reservation to diminish any Native influences. The boarding schools the Native American children attended often practiced corporal punishment and set policies to control the students. The Native students were forced to only speak English, practice Christian religion, and wear Americanized attire. Children who engaged in Native traditions or even simply spoke their mother tongue were severely punished. Boarding school policies forbade the students from keeping traditional Native hairstyles and often segregated the boys from the girls to assure and maintain Christian values.
Native American Women’s Fight for Equal Education