For many years Native American people have been discriminated against in the United States as well as in the Public School system. Beginning with the common-school movement of the 1830s and 1840s, which attempted to stop the flow toward a more diverse society, the school systems have continued to be geared exclusively toward WASPS (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). Native Americans have been forced to abandon their culture and conform to our American ways (Rothenberg, 1998, pp. 258-259.)
Thomas L. McKenney focused on deculturalizing the children through public schooling (Spring, 1997, p. 16). McKenney served as superintendent of Indian trade for fourteen years. After that office was abolished in 1823, he was appointed as the first head of the Office of Indian affairs. His idea was that a person could civilize the Native American children in schools when they were away from their parents. He tried to force assimilation on these Native American children. He wanted them to convert to Christianity, and adopt the WASPs beliefs and morals. In 1827 McKenney wrote to the Secretary of War, James Barbour stating that, children, who only needed to be protected from evil . . . and under the conditions of isolation and education Indians could be civilized in one generation (Spring, 1997, p.18).
Missionaries were sent to the tribes to spread the word of Christianity under the Civilization Act. Today the act of sending in missionaries would be viewed as a violation of the First Amendment. The amendment states that there shall be no governmental support of any religion. In that time though they were still beginning their school day with a reading from the Protestant Bible (Spring, 1997, p. 18). The Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches brought into existence the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1810. Their mission was worldwide and they sent missionaries abroad as well as the Native American tribes. According to Spring, the missionaries viewed the Native Americans as foreign heathen. A powerful example of the path to deculturalization was Reverend James Ramseys visit to a Choctaw school in 1846. As quoted in the Spring text, Ramsey stated, `I showed them on a map that the people who speak the English language, and who occupied so small a part of the world, and possessed the greatest part of its wisdom and knowledge; that knowledge they could thus see for themselves was power; and that power was to be obtained by Christianity alone. He told them that they, too, could attain this power and wealth if they would continue the practice of religious schooling.
Another form of cultural transformation was teaching English to the Native Americans. As Moravian educator John Gambold stated in Springs text, It is indispensably necessary for their preservation that they should learn our Language and adopt our Laws and Holy Religion. Actually Sequoyahs development of the written Cherokee language was invented for the purpose of preservation of the Cherokee culture. Reverend Gambold suggested that Sequoyahs language was a waste of his time and should simply be forgotten. Sequoyahs alphabet was a great success, in fact, soon after a newspaper was developed using the new language.
In 1858, Commissioner of Indian affairs, Charles E. Mix, in his annual report, stated that manual labor schools were to be established for the Native American children. This was to help prepare them for agriculture. The schools also taught basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. In order to maintain harmony between the whites and the Indians Commissioner Mix recommended that a military force should remain in the vicinity of the reservations to add in controlling the Indians (Spring, 1997, p.28). The second idea for schooling Native American children was to send them away to boarding school. The premise was to take the child out of their home at an early age to isolate them from their parents. Of course, this also isolated them from their language and their culture of their parents as well as their tribe. Richard Pratt, the founder of this school, did not only want to infuse the Indian children with his idea of a valued work ethic, Pratt wanted to saturate them in the white civilization and keep them there until they were immersed in it. The children were expected to abandon their allegiance to their Indian tribes and convert to pledging their allegiance to the United States Government. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Thomas J. Morgan sent out Instructions to Indian Agents in Regard to Inculcation of the Patriotism in Indian Schools. This demanded that an American flag be waved in front of every Indian school. The schools were also required to teach American History. All of the American National Holidays were to be honored in their schools. The United States Government stripped almost all of their pride and culture from them during their regular school hours.
Positive steps have been made such as the Indian Self Determination and Educational Assistance Act (Spring, 1997, p. 103), which encouraged Indian involvement in the school systems. This required a separate local committee to represent the population if the majority of the school board was not Native American. This committee was given control over all Native American education programs affiliated with the United States Government. The ideals of this act were expanded upon in 1988 with the Tribally Controlled Schools Act. This act provided for grants to be given directly to tribes to fund the operation of their schools. With these positive modifications equality is in the possible, but distant future.
Native Americans have been oppressed for hundreds of years since the their land was taken from them. The United States Government simply expects the Native Americans to assimilate to our society. Their culture and tribal ways have been stolen without a second thought. The government should provide some sort of retribution for these people. Perhaps Native American culture should be taught in our schools as well as American culture. Hopefully, someday everything will be equal in the world as well as in the public school system no matter what the persons heritage.