Friend of the Indian: The Origins and Purpose of Native American Education

Senior Capstone Experience by Alejandro Mendoza ’21

Submitted to the Department of History

Advised by Dr. Carol E. Wilson

Description: During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the United States embarked on a crusade to remove and disassociate American Indians from their land. As a result, many historians are quick to cite the brutal removal and slaughter of hundreds of indigenous tribes across the American continent as the sole method in which the federal government dominated over the native population. Although these aspects of history are important and worthy of significant attention and study, their solitary review limits the purview of U.S. Indian policy to only strongman figures such as Andrew Jackson and events such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Of course, in the broad historical sense, these subjects are controversial and must be given appropriate study and recognition; however, one of the most understudied chapters in Native American history, which is often overshadowed during this period, is the forced assimilation and education of Indian children through government sponsored boarding schools. As mentioned earlier, one might be quick to assume that American education for Indians was established during the periods of forced indigenous exodus in the middle and late eighteenth centuries. However, the foundation that would eventually encourage education as the solution to the American “Indian problem” was firmly planted centuries prior. In the early years of the American Republic, the purposes of such undertaking were hard to pinpoint as institutions, churches, and governments attempted to educate both Indians and African slaves for a multitude of reasons. However, they typically shared a common rhetoric that perceived the Indian as barbaric, savage, ignorant, simple-minded, or lower than whites. This viewpoint of the indigenous population rendered a false narrative that separated so-called American civilization and the “backward” Indians.

Read Alejandro’s SCE below:

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