In the late 1870’s, while the American-Indian war was still being fought, another war began against Native American culture. It began when the American government took Native American children away from the families and placed them into boarding schools that were far from their homes and taught them the ways of the white man. Native Americans have since struggled to survive on the lands where they were placed many years ago, a place of destitution and mostly despair. Reservations are amongst the poorest places in the Western hemisphere. They have the highest rates of addiction, domestic violence, and suicide in the United States. Is this a situation of cause and effect; and is there hope for a better future for those that seem to be haunted by the past?
Hopelessness Rooted In History
In 1879, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first off-reservation Indian school opened by Army officer, Richard Pratt. Pratt based the program off of a program he started at an Indian prison. Pratt quoted an Army general in a speech he gave, “A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one.” Pratt said that while he agreed with the sentiment, he felt it was better to, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man” (npr.org/templates). Consequently, Indian children were taken to these schools in an effort to civilize them and upon arrival were given European style clothes, haircuts, and new names. They were forbidden to speak in their native tongue or to engage in cultural practices and were severely disciplined if caught doing so; this total immersion into white culture put these children into an inconceivable torment. While attending the school, white families could make application for pupils to work their land, now the “Institution for indigenous children became a virtual labor recruiter for local white families who sought cheap laborers.” Officer Pratt felt this was a splendid opportunity to, “fit them for that station of life in which they are to live” (Trafzer, Keller, Sisquoc 9). They were being trained to do hard labor; therefore, they would never be seen as an equal in society, making them a people that were unable to conform to a white man’s world, and incapable of blending into the world of their ancestors.
Aftermath of Cultural Distortion
A study that was published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that, “Former boarding school attendees [and those who have been raised by someone who attended a boarding school] reported higher rates of current illicit drug use and living with alcohol use disorder, and were more likely to have attempted suicide and experienced suicidal thoughts compared to non-attendees (Campbell, Walters, Pearson, Campbell 421).” Alcoholism has become so prevalent amongst natives that they have helped enforce the perceived stereotype of the ‘drunken Indian’, as well making it the single most serious health problem causing the three leading causes of death amongst Natives: cirrhosis of the...