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Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawings on Native American Art

December 11, 2004 - May 15, 2005



Americanizing Native Americans: Education and Cultural Genocide
After their release from Fort Marion in 1875, most prisoners returned to the grim realities of poverty on the reservations. Some of Pratt's former prisoners accompanied him to the East to further their own education, while a hand full of others helped him in his quest to establish the first Indian school at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. The Plains converts recruited Native youths from their reservations and gathered children from families who were forced by poverty to release their young to the hopes that Indian education promised.
Prompted by Pratt's "successful" model of Indian education at Fort Marion, the U.S. government agreed to "Americanize" these Native youths by removing them from their tribal environment and placing them in boarding schools located far away. As the "educational" program at Fort Marion, these boarding schools intended to eradicate the children's Indian identity and promote their full assimilation into American society. In 1879, Pratt finally succeeded in establishing the U.S. Training and Industrial School at Carlisle, which became the first of these boarding schools that provided vocational and manual training, religious proselytization, and American cultural instruction. By 1900 thousands of young Natives were studying at almost 150 boarding schools around the country modeled after Pratt's experiment at Fort Marion.
As part of their "education," the Native students were systematically stripped of their tribal affiliations, forced to drop their Indian names, and given western names. They were forbidden to speak their native languages, to have contact with their families (except on rare occasions), or to dress in their culture specific attire (except in mock plays). As with the prisoners at Fort Marion, they were also forced to cut off their long hair and groom themselves in the proper Victorian manner. Not surprisingly, the schools often met fierce resistance from both parents and the Native youths who often tired to run away. Some Indian children eventually responded positively-or at least ambivalently-to the boarding school experience which unexpected fostered a sense of shared Indian identity that transcended tribal boundaries. This digital presentation provides a visual record of the processes of "civilization," "education", and "assimilation" that both the Fort Marion prisoners and subsequent generations of Native American youths underwent at Carlisle and other Indian boarding schools.

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