One of the more horrible and lesser known aspects of the Europeans colonization of the United States is the destruction of numerous Native American societies and cultures. With whites feeling that Native Americans were on “their” land, the United States tried to force the Native Americans to assimilate to white people in the United States. Native Americans were forced into becoming new citizens in the United States. The repercussions of this massive destruction of the American Indians is still felt today in some ways.
Whites coming to the United States from Europe at first tried to compromise with Indians. This can be seen in such acts as the Fort Laramie treaty which established tribal boundaries and government protection in return for whites being able to cross tribal territory. Soon, with the whites pushing to the West however, promises were broken and the US government tried to justify this empiricism over the Native Americans. As Helen Hunt Jackson writes, “…and the United States Government breaks promises now as deftly as the, and with an added ingenuity from long practice…” Before long, wars broke out, forcing the indigenous Indians and the Europeans settlers into a struggle for North America.
After about ten years of fighting, the US and the Native Americans end the wars with many Native Americans being allotted land by the United States. This is hardly fair to the Indians. As Chief Joseph said in 1879, “You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases.” Even more appalling was how, during and after armed conflict, whites in the United States tried to integrate the Native Americans into white society; destroying American Indian culture, language, and society so that the Indians could assimilate into society.
Government officials were opposed to all manifestations of Indianness and were devoted to the goal of stripping away the traditional way of life and replacing it with that of white America. With the mass killing of the buffalo by white hunters, Native Americans had to rely more and more on government issued food such as cattle, flour and coffee. Unfortunately, most Native Americans had no idea what these products were much less how to eat them.
As Luther Standing Bear has said, “The pressure that has been brought to bear upon the native people, since the cessation of armed conflict, in the attempt to force conformity of custom and habit has caused a reaction more destructive than war…” Chief Standing Bear obviously feels that this forced acculturation is even worse in some way then wars. At least during the wars, Native Americans still had their pride and honor. Now they are merely “penned up” living a life which has been forced upon them. Many are no longer in touch with their language or culture because it has been robbed from them by the white man.
Luther Standing Bear’s book, My People The Sioux is an important book about the integration of young Native American children into white society. After all, where better to start assimilating Native Americans then the young children who are more open to learning and are more impressionable in their young age.
Luther Standing Bear, or Plenty Kill, went to the Carlisle school which was a Native American school for acculturation as a young man. Scared and not knowing where they were going, young Indians like Standing Bear were taken to schools and stripped of their Native American culture and much of their identity. At first, the Indians were forced to exchange all their clothes for “white clothes”. Their hair was cut short like whites, something that young Standing Bear fights vehemently in his book . They were then forced to choose English names from a blackboard, not even knowing what the symbols on the board meant. The young Native Americans were not even allowed to speak their own languages and had to obtain permission to speak in their own language when their non-English speaking relatives visited them.
As you could probably imagine, such forced acculturation could have a tremendous impact to the lives of impressionable young men. The small things done to Standing Bear and the other students at the Carlisle Institute was no doubt made to break the Indian “spirit” that the boys had in them. The Indian school at Carlisle was the creation of Richard Henry Pratt who once said, “I am a Baptist, because I believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.” Interestingly, Pratt was and is commonly thought to be a friend of the Indians.
Another aspect that the government tried to force onto Native Americans was the decidedly American concept of capitalistic greed. As Merrill Gates said, “To bring him out of savagery into citizenship we must make the Indian more intelligently selfish before we can make him unselfishly intelligent. The desire for property of his own may become an intense educating force. ” The book which this except was take from is ironically entitled Friends of the Indian. Even the idea that greed and discontent with ones present condition can be taught to people is something that is sick and inhuman. The whites figured that if they could teach Indians desire for white products and services, the Native Americans would become dependent on the government and thus helpless. To a certain extent, this frightening plan has worked.
When Luther Standing Bear returned to his own people he found it hard to readjust to Indian life. Not quite white and yet not quite Indian anymore he was stuck between two worlds. This difficulty to find a place in society by these graduating students was a serious problem which was looked at by white educators. To a certain extent, this forced acculturation was successful in that Native Americans were robbed of their land and with whites rushing to steal this land, forced to loss their society and culture. Native Americans will never really return to the prominence they once had in North America and this is a terrible shame. They are just another society in a long list of peoples who have been destroyed by Western empiricism. Hopefully, by studying and learning about these cultures, they will live on.