Wednesday, January 21, 2015

INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS-FOR INDIANS ONLY--PART 1 by Cheryl Pierson


It’s interesting to me to read the different viewpoints on old Indian boarding schools and orphanages—and even hospitals—that were in operation to accommodate Indians, and assimilate them into white society. Living here in Oklahoma, we have a few of the now-defunct facilities scattered around our state—one, Concho Indian School, not more than about an hour’s drive from my house. Let’s take a look at the beginnings of these schools and how they came into existence.

Richard Henry Pratt was the man who came up with the idea of boarding schools for Indian children. These schools would remove children from the reservations when they were very young, send them to a place run by whites, and immerse them in white culture. This would obliterate their “Indian-ness” and encourage them to cope with and join into the world as it had become—white.



Mr. Pratt founded Carlisle Indian Industrial School in1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and compared to genocide—which was a much-discussed option—seemed to be the only “reasonable” alternative in those days to annihilation of the Indians that remained after the Indian wars were over.

Some Indian parents willingly sent their children, but many (I would venture to say most) were threatened with imprisonment and loss of their food rations. Eventually, they understood there was no choice, and said tearful goodbyes to their children as they were shipped off. The boarding schools at that time were hundreds of miles away—Carlisle being the flagship school, located in Pennsylvania. One of Oklahoma’s most celebrated Indian athletes, Olympian Jim Thorpe of the Sac and Fox Nation, was sent there.

Once the children arrived, everything was taken from them. Their clothing was burned, in many cases, and they were provided uniforms. Their hair was cut short. Even their names were changed. And, they were forbidden to speak their native tongue—for most of them, the only language they knew.



In many boarding schools, everything was done by bells. No talking was allowed among the children—even among brothers and sisters. Punishment for doing so was beating or confinement.

By 1902, twenty-five federally funded boarding schools in fifteen states and territories had been built, with more being planned. Over 6,000 students were enrolled in these institutions. But only seven years later the system was coming under fire. Though graduates had been trained for factory or farm work, neither could be found on the reservations they returned to. No jobs for these young adults waited once their schooling was finished, and so returning to the reservations meant dependence on the U.S. Indian Agency rather than taking jobs that allowed them to provide for themselves.

Boarding schools were there to stay, though, and remained open for over 100 years, into the 1980’s.
The Concho Indian School I mentioned earlier, opened in Darlington, Indian Territory, in 1887. It was replaced in 1932, and again in 1969, until its doors were closed for good in 1981due to budget cuts and defunding.



According to many, it was a horrible place—and it wasn’t the only one. Stories of abuse of all kinds—physical, sexual, and emotional—run rampant. In fact, there is a psychological condition called CSDT or Constructionist Self Development Theory that has been identified for survivors of these schools, wherein they develop their own theories as to why this kind of upbringing was “good” for them—it made them stronger; it made them a “fighter”, and so on.

Survivors’ descendants tell of some of the horrifying experiences their relatives endured, and the abandoned Concho Indian School building is said to be haunted by the spirits of some of the young victims, hoping for justice after all these years.

One woman writes: I’m an Indian and my grandmother told me bad stories of this place…many children from my tribe were taken and some were never heard from again. I hate the thought of this place.”

This post barely scratches the surface, and I will continue next month with more about orphanages and hospitals “for Indians only.”

In my novel, GABRIEL’S LAW, Brandon Gabriel and Allison Taylor first meet in an orphanage run by a ruthless headmaster. Though it was not a place strictly for Indians, the unhappy circumstances Brandon and Allie are faced with here forges the beginnings of trust, with love to come in the future.


I will be giving away a signed print copy of GABRIEL’S LAW today to one lucky commenter!


Here’s the blurb:
When Brandon Gabriel is hired by the citizens of Spring Branch to hunt down the notorious Clayton Gang, he doesn't suspect a double-cross. When Allison Taylor rides into town for supplies, she doesn't expect to be sickened by the sight of a man being beaten to death by a mob. When Spring Branch's upstanding citizens gather round to see a murder, nobody expects to hear the click of a gun in the hands of an angel bent on justice. Life is full of surprises.

Brandon and Allie reconnect instantly, though it's been ten years since their last encounter. She's protected him before. As Brandon recovers at Allie's ranch, the memories flood back, and his heart is lost to her. He also knows staying with her will ruin everything. She's made a life for herself and her son. She's respectable. She has plans * plans that don't include him. But could they?

Trouble is never far away, and someone else wants Allison Taylor and her ranch. Danger looms large when a fire is set and a friend is abducted. Allie and Brandon discover they are battling someone they never suspected; someone who will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. As Brandon faces down the man who threatens to steal everything from him, he realizes he is desperately in love with Allie and this new life they are making for themselves. Has Brandon finally found everything he's ever wanted only to lose it all? Can Brandon and Allie confront the past, face down their demons, and forge their dreams into a future?


If you just can’t wait to see if you won, here’s the Amazon link!
http://www.amazon.com/Gabriels-Law-Cheryl-Pierson-ebook/dp/B00K2I2JRM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1421794538&sr=8-1&keywords=Gabriel%27s+Law+by+Cheryl+Pierson

34 comments:

  1. Thank you for this article, Cheryl.

    There will NEVER be enough said about the deplorable treatment of American Indians. All of this sounds so Dickensian, of poverty and extreme social injustice repeatedly committed against a people whose only crime was to be the first residents of these United States.

    Worse, injustices against reservation lands and treaties continue to this day.

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    1. So true, Charlie. One of the Choctaw ladies I know spent some time in an orphanage and in the tuberculosis hospital for Indians here in OK, and the stories she tells will make your blood run cold. No telling how many others -- especially children-- were mistreated. A horrible time in our history.
      Cheryl

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  2. We often hear of these schools and how bad they were, but its not often I've found much to read about them--I know there are a few books out there on the subject. Thanks for posting this Cheryl.

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    1. Gordo, I've found that, too. I think it's the propensity that many Indians have for not speaking of the evil aloud--part of that culture. I don't know anyone who really says anything good about them. Such a sad time for those children.
      Cheryl

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  3. By the way, my great-great-grandmother was Choctaw.

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    1. L.J., I have 3x Greats that were near full blood or were full blood on both sides of my family--so hard to trace back, but believe them to be Cherokee and Chickasaw/Choctaw. Such interesting stuff, isn't it?

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  4. I am absolutely floored by the atrocities. This is just despicable, and Charlie is right, this continues today! Greed is an ugly thing, and our government has only returned to the vile thinking and ways from which the Puritans fled. And, history truly repeats itself. I think our gov't turned a blind eye regarding the Nazis and concentration camps because they, too, were incarcerating Indian children years prior! I work for an attorney and we often deal with the Indian Child Welfare Act. I can see the timeframe correlation of the closing of some boarding schools and the creation of ICWA. Still, it's despicable! I'm disgusted for our one great nation.

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    1. Lynsey, so glad to see you hear and I hope you'll visit often! There's always interesting stuff posted here at the WF blog. I bet you have a VERY interesting job and see all kinds of stuff.

      I, too, am disgusted for our nation, as well. We've had some very dark times. I suppose, Pratt must have believed this was the lesser of two evils, since genocide was one option that was being discussed. A very sad day for our country, and it still continues in many many ways.
      Cheryl

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    2. Should have said "Glad to see you HERE" Lynsey! Brain was behind my fingers.

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  5. So much history, so many stories to be found. Thank you for researching and sharing these. Thank you also for finding ways to fictionalize pieces of these stories into great reads.

    On a side note, did you know, in some areas of the country if a child were an orphan and/or in foster care their 'caseworkers' were probation officers in the early part of this century? Doris

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    1. Doris, I had no idea. That's amazing, but not really so unbelievable when you think about the nation's thoughts and feelings toward Indians. There is so much to be discovered, and so much that has been lost. How I wish we had journals and accounts of the things that happened "back in the day" at these schools and orphanages.
      Cheryl

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    2. I found out about the probation officers from my mother, who was raised in the foster care system in the 30's. Doris

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    3. I found out about the probation officers from my mother, who was raised in the foster care system in the 30's. Doris

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  6. I never knew about those schools. It makes sense that our government would try something like that, for their own good, of course. I'm looking forward to part 2.

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    1. Connie, if you've never read The Education of Little Tree, that is a real eye-opener, and SUCH a good story. You won't be able to put it down. It's by Forrest Carter.
      Cheryl

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  7. Great post, Cheryl, and illustrates how bad people use the good intentions of others. Certainly while I was growing up in Nebraska there were tons of "good things" people were doing for the Inidans that, due to the law of unintended consequences were bad (or, as you've written here --fully intended!)

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    1. Yeah, it's such a fine line--I'm sure not everyone was evil with their thoughts and ideas and plans toward the Indians, but it's so hard now to look back at the history of what happened and tell who was who, right? It's all so grim now that it appears they're all painted with the same brush.
      Cheryl

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  8. This is one of those bright ideas that looks good on paper...sort of like a lab report get--I look good on paper, but my physical body is a wreck.
    Assimilation seemed to be the only option for the Native Americans, and yes, on the surface it makes sense. Why is it better to put them on reservations and live and learn from their elders, though? In either case, you have a real mess, a problem that's pretty much unsolvable. That's what happens when one stronger group of humans take over a smaller group in pure defeat. Happen all the time, all through the history of the human race.
    In this case, it seems particularly cruel and inhuman, because only the little ones would face this difficult process of assimilation.
    A near neighbor and fellow professor with my husband is half Choctaw--mother pure breed, and father a Scot--McKaskill. He was not reared on a reservation, but has family on one. which makes him part of the group.
    He gets a sizable check every month for being Native American, and you know what? He laughs about all the casinos and how the Indians are getting their revenge by raking in money. (this is the only thing I don't like about him--otherwise he's a good father and grandfather and neighbor.) He looks Native American, short and stocky with very black hair. He wrote dozens of children's stories based on Native American folklore about animals taking on human or god-like personas. He was hoping to get them published--but four years ago their house burned to the ground--and with it all those stories. I've tried to encourage him to re-write them, but he won't. Now he's writing a story about two very young men--one white and one black--who walked to Texas from Georgia after the Civil War. He often calls me to discuss things about the Nineteenth Century and land rights, etc. A couple of weeks ago, he called and said-Celia, I'm just sick. I have to kill off one of my characters, and I'm having a hard time doing it."
    He always makes me laugh. Another time I'll tell you a very recent story about him and his egg-laying chickens!
    Sorry, I got off the subject.

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    1. Celia, the next time he laughs about the casinos, remember this. It's not the regular people of the tribe who are making money off those casinos. They have no programs in place for social issues and cultural monies for the preservation of their heritage, etc. There truly doesn't seem to be a plan of action for the money of the casinos. Where does it go? Not to the common people of the tribe. A few years ago, one of my good friends who was the administrator for one of the public school districts' Indian Education Program told me stories of how people would call her and ask if there was any way they could get a runaway Indian child a place to stay, or a meal or a battered woman a safe house...no provisions for that. If it was to happen, it would have to happen from the goodness of a regular person like her (which she did many times out of her own pocketbook) or a church program. The instance of physical and sexual abuse is astronomical in the Indian communities, but it's largely ignored. The money from the casinos basically goes down a black hole. Someone is getting it, but who? Certainly not the common people.
      Cheryl

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  9. I remember a season series n TV about this very subject. It was a terrible thing to do. White people can be so arrogant--and clueless. One's heritage is such a deep part of one's spirit. How can someone intentionally steal that legacy away from a person?
    When the English attempted to destroy Scottish heritage, we had an uprising and many Scots found sanctuary in the Appalachian mountains.
    Cultural and ethnic differences should be treasured and nurtured. It's what makes us Americans. That's just my two cents.
    Gabriel's Law was a wonderful story. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
    All the best to your corner of the universe, Cheryl.

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    1. Sarah, you are so right. Of course, "back in the day" that was just the way people thought--it never occurred to them to think of lowly Indians as equals.

      Thanks so much for coming by today, Sarah. I'm so glad you enjoyed Gabriel's Law so much. I really enjoyed working on that one, too.

      Cheryl

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  10. During ancient wars, the victorious usually enslaved the vanquished. After the then-recent bloodshed over the slavery issue, the U.S. government wasn't about to do that to the Indians, so they did the next-best thing: shoved them onto patches of ground no one else wanted, often hundreds or thousands of miles away from ancestral homelands. Then, to add insult to injury, they made the Indians wards of the state -- or, in the case of the Apache, prisoners of war.

    In effect, white Americans took everything from the Indians, including pride and self-respect. Seen as a savage, lesser species, they no longer were allowed to support themselves in traditional ways. Forced to remain within the confines of land the federal government "generously" gave them, the Indians had little choice but to become dependent on handouts from white society. That's psychological slavery, and it's no less abhorrent than the kind known for shackles and forced labor.

    Thanks for bringing up the topic of Indian schools, Cheryl. It's a shameful part of our history...and shameful things often get shoved under the buffalo robe.

    :-)

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    1. One of my favorite places to visit on God's green earth is Geronimo's gravesite at Ft. Sill. He is buried in the "prisoner of war" cemetery. Yes, they have an entire separate cemetery for the "bad" Indians, but the "good" Indians are buried on the regular base cemetery--those are the ones who signed the treaties, and Quanah Parker and his mother and sister are buried there. But Geronimo is buried "over the river and through the woods"--still on base property but you have to use a map to get out to where he's buried. He lies with all his family, and his warriors and their families. It's a simple piece of ground with no fanfare, out in the woods, so peaceful. About 2 or 3 times a year, Gary and I drive down there and visit his grave. I see something new every time I go.

      Reservations are the way whites devised to really keep the Indians down--as you say, they're psychologically dependent so they don't really have a need to do anything but live on the rez and be taken care of. Hard to break the cycle. Thanks for coming by and commenting, Kathleen!
      Cheryl

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  11. There are aspects of "the Native American problem" that remind me of "the Jewish problem" of Nazi Germany, and it leaves me with an ugly feeling.

    For example, Col. John Chivington, of the Sand Creek Massacre 'fame' is reported to have said to his soldiers, "Nits make lice" as his justification to have soldiers kill the children in the peaceful encampment.

    In October 1943, Heinrich Himmler is reported to have said these words to fellow Nazis when there was some uneasiness about killing the children: "...the Jewish children had to be killed so that a group of ‘avengers’ did not grow up ‘for our sons and grandchildren’..."

    History repeating itself.

    Kaye

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    1. Ugh. Yes, that is so true, Kaye. What an awful thing. Makes you wonder what went through all those soldiers' minds--both times--at the thought of killing children.
      Cheryl

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  12. Another ugly legacy from our not so distant past. From what I've read and watched on history programs, once away from the schools, the children weren't welcome in the white world or back in their own.

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    1. Alisa, that's the truth. When my 3xgr grandfather was stolen from his Indian family by the U.S. Cavalry and given to a white minister to be "assimilated"--I truly believe that the minister believed he was doing the right thing. They sent my ggg grandfather to medical school, and he became a doctor. But he belonged in neither world. I wrote a short story called One Magic Night about that. I wanted him to have a happy ending--even if it was fictional.
      Cheryl

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  13. This is just one more example of the genocide we perpetrated and have yet to own up to. Cultural genocide, of course, but just as effective in its destructiveness to Native Americans.

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    1. Yes, JD. Some of the stories I've heard from someone I know who spent time in one of the orphanages and then the tuberculosis hospital (next blog) just make your blood run cold. SO sad, and you wonder how a person could treat another that way. But the whites did it--and still try to sweep it under the rug.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Cheryl

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  14. And the winner of the signed print copy of GABRIEL'S LAW is CONNIE BOWEN! WHOO HOOO!!! Congratulations, Connie. Thanks to everyone for stopping by and reading and commenting today. I appreciate the support!
    Cheryl

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  15. Cheryl, I'm a day late in reading this, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning so much more about Indian schools. I had no idea that the Indians were forced to send their children. Thank you so much for your sharing this. As an easterner, I soak up all the info that you and so many other PRP westerners graciously offer. It's not only interesting and enlightening but so very helpful in understanding the full extent of different happenings throughout the west that our eastern schools only lightly touched upon--I'm now only realizing that fact. And I loved Gabriel's Law--didn't want it to end.

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    1. Hey Bev! Well, the great thing about the internet is that you're really never "late"--right? LOL And truly, even being born and raised in Oklahoma where so much of Indian history happened, they didn't talk about it much in our schools, either. HOWEVER, this is interesting. When my kids were in elementary school in the 90's, "89'er Day" was a big deal, where on April 22, they'd re-enact the land run, and the kids would dress as homesteaders, bring their lunches in a pail or paper sack, etc. I saw on the news the other day where some of the tribes here in OK have protested that practice--there were only about 3 or 4 schools left that still did it anyhow--but imagine, being an Indian kid and having to participate in the Land Run of '89 that allowed the whites to come in and literally steal the land right out from under them when it had been given to them in treaties (after moving them from their original lands in other states out here to Oklahoma). The superintendent did say that they would not do it anymore. There are so many things like this that seem "little" but they aren't. Thanks for coming by Bev! And thanks for the very kind words about Gabriel's Law!
      Cheryl

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  16. WOW! I'm glad they gave up that school "89'er Day.

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    1. Yep. Isn't that unbelievable? But for people who believe that all that is "over and done with"--it's not. There are still these types of activities that go on in our public school systems!

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