Indian boarding school documentary discusses education, assimilation into American culture

Imagine someone being stripped of their culture, heritage and language and beaten for committing the “crime” of using their native tongue.

That is what happened to more than 100,000 American Indian children who attended roughly 500 boarding schools by force sometimes that focused on assimilating them into European culture.

Monday evening in the Bovee University Center Auditorium, “Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School,” was shown to about 60 Central Michigan University students and several community members, who learned about these schools.

Director of Native American Programs Colleen Green said the most valuable part of this event was the background knowledge.

“This is especially helpful to have those voices be heard,” Green said. “A lot of people don’t have the background information on what’s going on with the Indian boarding schools. This is gained information that helps,” she said.

Afterward there was a discussion that focused on the topics of Native American education and how it relates to other cultural histories in America.

The Indian Boarding School documentary told a story through interviews, historical data and old photographs of how the school was both a negative and positive aspect on the children who went there.

In early November 1878, American Indian children began their education in the first off-reservation boarding schools at a deserted military post in Pennsylvania.

This Carlisle Indian Industrial School was opened by Captain Richard H. Pratt whose motto and goal was to “kill the Indian, not the man.”

Later on, hundreds of schools in the West were created after his style and many American Indian children ranged from as young as 4 years old to the late teens. Many of the methods used to “civilize” the children were actually brainwashing, according the video.

These tactics varied from making the children eat soap when they spoke their native tongue, spank them with cat tails and stuff them inside a dark closet.

Their native clothes were also burned, their hair was cut and they were forced to learn English and religious doctrines.

The video also referenced multiple forms of sexual abuse that created a ripple effect from the administrators to the students, who also abused each other.

The turmoil inside of the schools often created problems for generations to come, according to the video, such as alcohol and drug problems and not properly raising families.

Yet, many American Indians still were able to maintain their culture, pride and traditions, while using their skills inside the school for their betterment and growth.

The last boarding school to close was in Harbor Springs in 1986, Green said during the discussion.

Green also related to how other ethnicities like the Japanese inside internment camps experienced a type of re-civilization like the American Indians.

Mount Pleasant senior Megan Crain attended the event and thought the documentary was very interesting because it showed success stories.

“It was encouraging to see how the Native American Indian movement rose out of these people desiring change in the education they got and they can fight back the United States government,” she said.

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