Learning Experience – Deculturalization of Native Americans

In Chapter two of Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality, Joel Spring goes in depth about the deculturalization of Native Americans and the role education played. He highlights this cultural destruction as the result of the strongly held belief that one culture holds superiority over another. Native Americans were forced to suffer physically and mentally for decades in the United States as means to control and weaken their culture, with education being used as a tool in this process. The author portrays this struggle with his incorporation of references to the lived experiences of the Native Americans and their oppressors. 

The Naturalization Act of 1790 excluded Native Americans from gaining citizenship in order to uphold the homogeneous society of white individuals. They were classified as domestic foreigners, thus not true members of the republic. Deculturalization and the denial of citizenship went hand and hand. Native Americans did not gain the title of citizen until 1924 when Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. Before this, Thomas McKenney, the head of the Office of Indian Affairs, wanted to gain control of the Native Americans through the education of various groups called the Five Civilized Tribes. He pushed for the common-school movement. This educational system was used to gain authority over the Native American’s culture and eventually assimilate it into the accepted beliefs and traditions of the time in the United States.  His final solution was to move the southern tribes to lands west of the Mississippi in order to protect and civilize them. The goal of this movement was to “civilize” the Native American people in one generation. Mckenny never fathomed the Indians would resent or resist against this education in which they were thought of as children and taught ways that were foreign to them and their people. These academic experiences were run by Missionaries.  The Missionary Educators were mostly of the protestant religion because of the deeply rooted Christain belief system in society. They considered the Native Americans to be heathens and worked to deculturalize and convert them. Presbyterian missionaries wanted to spread the Anglo-Saxon beliefs primarily to the tribal leadership. The totality of missionaries desired to improve literacy and alter the culture of Native Americans. 

Furthermore, the missionaries wanted to develop a written language for the Native Americans as a means to eventually translate it to further develop their religious teachings. Sequoyah, a mixed-blood Cherokee, created an alphabet for the Native Americans in order to preserve their ways of life since language and culture are closely related. This led to the creation of the first Cherokee newspaper. However, the missionaries did not approve of this written language because they could not understand it and believed it inhibited the Native Americans’ ability to learn English. 

When Andrew Jackson was elected to presidency, he decided that civilization policies were giving Native Americans too much power. He feared that they would learn how to resist. Although this was wildly contradictory to McKenny’s ideology and extremely oppressive to the Native Americans, Jackson was correct, they did desire literacy in order to resist. He wanted to relocate the Indians which led to the Indian Removal Act. This worked to remove the Native Americans from their lands east of the Mississippi to lands west of the Mississippi. The president was required to provide assistance; however, this still resulted in a series of unfortunate events unfolding for these indigneous people. The 2,000 of 17,000 that decided to make the trek to the west had to face cholera, contaminated foods, and other dangers. This traumatized some, injured others, and killed many. The 15,000 that stayed had to face the wrath of General Winifield Scott and his troops. These men surrounded houses, forcibly removed the Cherokees, stole valuables, burned down homes, and forced adults and children into stockades. Furthemore, nn a Supreme Court Case of 1831, the ruling was that Indian tribes are “domestic  dependent nations.” After getting settled in Indian Territory, the Native Americans began to set up schools. The Choctaw and Cherokee tribes were praised for their successful school systems. The Choctaw were first established in cooperation with missionaries, but then they removed the academies from missionary management and replaced it with a board of trustees. 

Moreover, Luke Lea argued that there were wilder Indian tribes that must be put into reservations. These sites were supposed to focus on minimal educational skills with an emphasis on agricultural excellence. The Western Native Americans resisted resulting in the Indian Wars which led to the creation of the Indian Peace Commision. Despite the name suggesting a change to this abusive treatment, the Indian Peace Commision worked to deculturalize the Native Americans as well, with their main focus as promoting the English language. Boarding schools helped to do this and destroy other Indian customs. These educational facilities were not found on the reservations as a means to distance the young Native Americans from their families and livelihoods. They worked to exemplify and teach patriotic imagery, songs, and selections.  The United States wanted the young natives to alter their allegiance to the federal government and abandon their original tie to their tribal government. Boarding schools were cruel and treated children as if they were members of the military. Some facilities even went as far as to build a jail for those that misbehaved. Commissioner Morgan pushed that early childhood education worked towards eradicating tribal beliefs, while high school academics were centered around instilling the morals of the average American citizen. In the meantime, Pratt was working hard to really civilize the Native Americans which he thought would be done through the alteration of ownership. Pratt’s ideas backed the Allotment Movement which moved tribal ownership to individual Indians. This was founded on the grounds that tribal ownership closely resembled socialism and this change would help to fix issues pertaining to land. 

Finally, the Meriam Report in 1928 began the process that later finalized the educational efforts used to deculturalize the Native American people. The report called for a complete strip down of the original plan. It strongly criticized the efforts previously put forth by the government, complaining that isolating the Native Americans from their culture and forcing another onto them is not how to handle the situation. The report supported the notion that we should embrace their homeland and customs. For the latter half of the century, the Native Americans would put their efforts into rebuilding what the federal government destroyed. 

By writing this piece in support of the Native Americans, the author’s political perspective is made clear. He desires less government interaction when working with indegnious people until those in charge are able to accept different cultures, races, and ethnicities. In addition, his ideological and cultural perspectives are  in support of human rights and the preservation of individual cultures. He obviously feels that each person deserves the liberty to fully embrace their heritage and represent it proudly. I strongly agree with both of these perspectives and with the entire concept that the Native Americans have been extremely hurt by the federal government. I can not even imagine the heartache these poor people were forced into simply so the United States could gain power and homogeneity in society. I am truly appalled  by these actions and hope for a better future for those that had to suffer. 

Additionally, as a student, I had not learned about the great suffering the Native American people had to endure. Most events in their history were merely glossed over. My educational experience truly did not prepare me to understand these people and the hardship they went through most likely as a means to preserve the positive image the United States would like to hold. I was not educated about these sufferings, especially in this depth even in my high school years. I hope the school systems work to incorporate this history, as well as culture into the curriculum in order to create a better understanding of and stronger respect for the Native American people. As we discussed in our classes involving Gloria Ladson-Billings’ piece, “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” there is a need for cultural competence which involves the understanding of one or more cultures. I believe that this aspect of a culturally relevant pedagogy would be particularly useful in the future betterment of education about Native Americans, thus wrestling in greater respect for the people and their customs. 

For my learning experience, my group and I chose to emphasize the aforementioned suffering, relocation, education, and overall abuse of Native Americans. Our presentation summarized each of the main points discussed in the previous paragraphs. Our learning objective was to inform our students about the history of Native Americans and educate them on the present day issues involving these people and our education system. My responsibilities while planning the lesson were to create an introduction slide which highlighted our learning objectives and why this information was important. During the lesson, I made sure to emphasize how the education and respect of Native Americans is vital in the perspectives of a future teacher, future parent, and current student. This was used as a means to get our audience engaged and ready to intake vital information. In addition, I created slides seven through twelve. These summarized the portion of the article I was in charge of presenting to the class. I was mostly responsible for the diminishment of Native American language and their forced removal resulting in the trail of tears and General Scott’s abuse. I was also tasked with finding related videos or articles and generating discussion questions related to these pieces which I put onto a google doc. We each went into breakout rooms with one or two other students in which we presented the inquiries and led discussions after the full group presentation. 

I felt that this learning experience was more successful than the previous one. My discussion with Shaina was fruitful and rewarding. We began by analyzing the comic I included. This really prepared us for later discussions and got our minds thinking in a more fun way with this humorous, yet very truthful graphic.

I then asked about her previous educational experiences involving the history and contemporary issues of Native Americans. We both realized that our educational experiences left out these problems or briefly covered them, mostly straight from the textbook. In addition, we agreed that our academic facilities made Native Americans seem like they do not exist today, which is far from true. To solidify this idea, we watched a video entitled Native American Students Respond to American Education. This portrayed a variety of current young Native American students who speak on how they struggle in school. We then discussed how the lack of representation of this community is greatly affecting the youth and needs to be altered. We delved into the idea that films like these are important to show in schools to teach children about contemporary issues and emphasize the need to respect different cultures. Shaina pointed out that only one child in the video desired a future career that required further education which strongly emphasized the lack of support these children are receiving. When asked what she, as an educator, would do Shaina suggested various ideas that I strongly agree with. She claimed that she would discourage the disrespect of any culture and ensure that each student felt welcome and confident in the classroom without drawing any unnecessary attention on one particular scholar. 

We then read a quote from the article, “‘That is not what happened.’ Native Americans criticize schools’ teaching of their history.” The short paragraph detailed the common experience of learning about the happy Thanksgiving feast that took place which avoids the reality of the situation. I asked why the education system would present a false positive story like this to the students and Shaina and I agreed that it was to keep a proper image of the United States in the minds of children. We desire our citizens to think we live in a highly esteemed country that is without mistakes which is far from true. Shaina pointed out that we, as a country, are quick to put blame on other people or countries, absolving ourselves from any sort of acknowledgement of guilt or regret. This is teaching our children to avoid, ignore, or simply push off their problems onto someone else. Finally, we discussed another clip entitled Trail of Tears for Kids Documentary. This video showed a short educational experience that is made for children. Since the common argument is that the truth about the Native Americans is inappropriate or harsh for young individual , we discussed if this video met those standards. Shaina and I believe that this film gave children the necessary information about Native Americans without any graphic details or imagery which is what we need to begin to do in our history lessons instead of removing the truth. We discussed how just like with other subjects, we must build our knowledge in each grade, meaning we must start with a softer, yet truthful version of this history and build as we get older, rather than altering it or removing it altogether. At the end I provided Shaina with the article, “What Every Teacher Needs to Know to Teach Native American Students.” This piece works to show teachers what to expect and how to handle this culture that may be new and different to them. I hope this inspired Shaina, and the other students who received it to improve their teaching techniques in order to adequately instruct their future students. 

Overall, I felt that this learning experience was a success. I enjoyed presenting to the class and my one-on-one conversation with Shaina. These activities truly show me that I am not alone in my outrage with the current system and their ability to gloss over important subjects, ideas, and cultures. I look forward to my next learning experience and hope it is just as prosperous as this one.

References

Educational Videos for Students. (2015, October 23). Trail of Tears for Kids Documentary: Watch our Cartoon for Kids 

on the Trail of Tears. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Q5Z4UUitdU

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the Achievement Gap to the Education Debt: Understanding Achievement in U.S. Schools. Educational Researcher35(7), 3-12.

Morgan, H. (n.d.). What Every Teacher Needs to Know To Teach Native American Students. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ858583.pdf

Spring, Joel 2013. Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. Chapter 2: Native Americans: Deculturalization. 

Schooling, and Globalization. New York: McGraw Hill.pp. 21-40.

Whisnant, S. (2019, April 1). ‘That is not what happened.’ Native Americans criticize schools’ teaching of their history. 

Retrieved from 

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article228639074.html

Wilbur, M. (2019, March 27). Native American Students respond to American Education. Retrieved March 30, 2021, 

from 

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