A Story of Heroism & Pride
Within a Shameful Chapter of History
"Convert him in all ways but color into a white man, and, in fact, the Indian would be exterminated, but humanely, and as beneficiary of the greatest gift at the command of the white man - his own civilization."The history of the Carlisle Indian School is inextricably linked with its founder. R.H. Pratt, a US Army captain, had commanded a unit of African-American soldiers and Indian scouts in Dakota Territory for eight years following the Civil War. Subscribing to the ideas of the "Indian reformers" of the time - many of whom were Quakers and Christian missionaries - Pratt believed the solution to the so-called "Indian problem" was not separation, which was the function of the reservations, but assimilation.
- Characterization of Carlisle Indian School founder R.H. Pratt's philosophy by historian Robert H. Utley, 1979
"In our culture, the only time we cut hair is when we are in mourning or when someone has died in the immediate family. We do this to show we are mourning the loss of a loved one."As the train carrying the first group of Lakota students made its way across the country, townspeople came to every train station to gawk at the children wearing their blankets and moccasins. To avoid this spectacle in Carlisle, Pratt routed the train to a tiny depot several blocks from the main station on High Street. His plan was foiled, and hundreds of cheering Carlisle residents were waiting on the platform. When the travelers arrived at the school, Pratt was enraged to find that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs had failed to send provisions, bedding or food. The children were forced to sleep, hungry, on the floor in their blankets.
- Sterling Hollow Horn (Lakota), Pine Ridge, South Dakota, 2000
"God helps those who help themselves."Because Pratt wanted his charges to learn trades as well as academics, half of each day was devoted to reading, writing and arithmetic, and the other half to trades, such as blacksmithing and carpentry for the boys, sewing and laundry for the girls. The entire system was shaped by Pratt's military past. Boys dressed in uniforms, and girls wore Victorian-style dresses. The students practiced marching and drilling and were given military-style ranks.
- Slogan on the masthead of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School newspaper
"When you destroy a person's language, it destroys their world view. They're left with only fragments. I speak Spanish, and I speak English. When you think in Spanish, it's totally different. When they leave the school and go back to the reservation, they're still Indian, but not anymore."The destruction of native languages was one of Pratt's main objectives. Children began English lessons as soon as they arrived at Carlisle. Students were punished, sometimes severely, if caught speaking their native languages, even in private. According to Tsianina Lomawaima, a professor at the University of Arizona and author of a book about the Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma, Carlisle and other boarding schools modeled after it didn't instantly eliminate native languages. But because of their school experiences, many former students decided not to teach these languages to their children.
- Jorge Estevez (Taino), participant coordinator, Museum of the American Indian, New York, 2000
"Kill the Indian, save the man."Pratt wrote extensively and candidly about his reasons for founding the Carlisle school. He referred to relations between European and Native Americans in terms of the "Indian problem" and compared it to a similarly widespread attitude toward the "Negro problem." In 1890 he wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "If millions of black savages can become so transformed and assimilated, and if, annually, hundreds of thousands of emigrants from all lands can also become Anglicized, Americanized, assimilated and absorbed through association, there is but one plain duty resting upon us with regard to the Indians, and that is to relieve them of their savagery and other alien qualities by the same methods used to relieve the others."
- R.H. Pratt, often-repeated catch phrase
"There were kids who were Lakota, and there were kids who were Wampanoag. At Carlisle, they became Indian."The erosion of Native-American sovereignty was swift and unrelenting. Propelled by a hunger for land, gold, power and control, it swallowed up everything in its path, including communities, languages and religions. No matter the Nez Perce were distinct from the Navajo, the Seneca from the Seminole, the Coeur D'Alene from the Crow. They were one in their difference.
- Barbara Landis, Carlisle Indian School biographer, 2000
"My lands are where my people lie buried."When you are driving on Claremont Road in Carlisle, it's easy to miss the small, tidy cemetery along the side of the road. The long, slender limbs of a weeping-cherry tree in the nucleus of the plot reach down like fingers brushing along the arched tops of pristine, white tombstones surrounded by a short, iron fence. Row after neat row of graves dot the grass.
- Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux leader, 1877