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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Native Americans’ boarding school life exposed in seminar

By Kristine Collins/ reporter

When hearing Native American, most people think of heritage, tribes or movie perception, but boarding schools usually do not come to mind.

NE government professor Lisa Uhlir spoke Nov. 22 about Native Americans and their boarding school experience.

Students started the session by asking questions ranging from religious beliefs to women’s power in the tribe.

Native Americans believe that once people die, all of their belongings should be burned, Uhlir said. They truly cannot own anything or they will stay here on Earth after death.

“After a certain time period, you aren’t allowed to speak or mourn after your loved one,” she said. “Once they pass, we believe the person needs to go on. We believe in ghosts.”

The U.S. has 560 registered tribes with some being matrilineal or patrilineal. In matrilineal, the woman holds the power in the family, and the children belong to the mother whereas in patrilineal, the man has the power, Uhlir said. In early America, prior to the Civil War, most tribes were matrilineal.

“If the woman married a runaway slave,” she said, “her children were still free because the children belonged to the mother. In many Southern states, the Native American woman would marry African-American slaves and buy their husbands back, so they would be free along with their children being free.”

From early America to the 1880s is known as the annihilation period, when a bounty was placed on Native Americans.

“If you could prove that you killed a Native American by taking a part of their scalp and a part of their forearm to the Army, they would give you $20 in exchange,” she said.

The U.S. passed the Dawes Act in 1887, which divided up the land of tribal members giving them each 100-acre plots. Another part of the act required the children to attend a boarding school.

Uhlir said the government realized Native American adults wouldn’t change their beliefs or their culture. Therefore, the government sent the Native American children as young as 4 to boarding school for 10-12 years. They could not travel back home, and, most of the time, the schools were several states away from their families.

Once the children arrived, they were stripped of their native clothing and made to wear old soldier’s clothes that usually didn’t fit. Then their heads were shaved, and they were given new names. They were not allowed to speak their native tongue and were in a constant state of malnutrition, Uhlir said.

The Meriam Report of 1928 likened the schools to a medieval torture chamber. Children had to work six to eight hours a day on the farms and were beaten and tortured if they tried to run away or were caught speaking their native tongue, Uhlir said.

Col. Richard Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, one of the boarding schools.

“Let the Indian in you die,” he told the first graduating class. “Let all the Indian in you no longer exist. There is no way you can become an American, become intelligent, productive, part of society until you let the Indian in you die.”

The boarding schools were still in effect until the 1960s, and the last school closed in 1980.

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