The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Professor sheds light on historic practices

By Paul Paez/reporter

The U.S. offers a rich Native American culture that still exists.

Unfortunately, a part of the Native American history is rarely discussed because of its dark past, a government professor told NE students Nov. 19.

Lisa Uhlir presented The Indian Boarding School Project, which highlighted a chapter in Native and American history filled with family separation, identity change and mental and physical mistreatment.

“It’s just something we don’t talk about,” said Uhlir, who explained the topic is uncomfortable and painful for her to discuss as some of her family members attended Indian boarding schools.

Indian boarding schools opened in the 1800s as a way to assimilate Native Americans into a Western-cultured society. In some cases, the schools were too isolated to prevent residents from running away and to keep anyone from visiting the children.

Children were often not treated well in the schools. For instance, teachers often shaved the heads of those who arrived at the school. In Native American culture, hair is significant, Uhlir said, as the head is viewed as where the soul is.

“The hair is the reflection of the internal where it comes from, which is your soul,” she said. “The hair is a very deep reflection of your internal self.”

Other things done upon arrival included changing the children’s traditional clothing and their given names. Names have also held an important role in Native American culture, Uhlir said.

“My grandmother used to call me Little Butterfly,” she said. “It was based on my personality … I had a great connection to Little Butterfly, reminds me of what she felt about my personality.” 

Name changes done at the schools caused students to change their identity and created alienation, separation and less connection to their past, Uhlir said. Students were forced to stop speaking their native language and faced physical punishment if the language was spoken.

Heath Blair, a student in Uhlir’s government class and who has a Native American ancestry, also attended one of Uhlir’s previous presentations.

“I think it’s important that we as Americans know what happened, what our ancestry did,” he said.

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