Indian schools

Apache Native American Lorene Sisquoc holds two pictures of a Native American young man. One is altered to show his skin lighter. His hair is cut short, and he is wearing conservative clothing. The picture on the right shows the same young man as he was before he attended an off-reservation Indian boarding school.

Last Saturday at the Malki Museum, Lorene Sisquoc, a member of the Fort Sill Apache tribe, gave a presentation on the history and impact Indian schools had on generations of Native Americans across the United States.

Sisquoc’s tribe, Fort Sill Apache, is in Chiricahua Warm Springs Apache, Okla.

Sisquoc and her mother never attended boarding school; they went to public schools, but they did live on the campus of a boarding school in Riverside. 

"My grandma transferred here so my mom wouldn’t have to go to boarding school," Sisquoc said.

Sisquoc noted that other tribes maintained their culture and heritage while being raised through the boarding school system.

This was not the case with her family.

“We call ourselves Chihene, or the red paint people,” Sisquoc said.

Siqouc’s grandmother, who was Chihene, married a Cahuilla man, of the Mountain Chahuillas.

In 1886, Apache leader Geronimo surrendered to U.S. government troops.

Part of the agreement of the surrender was that only the Apache warriors who held out would be prisoners for three years, according to Sisquoc.

“But instead, it was the whole group of my people — a few hundred of us,” Sisquoc said.

Her tribal people ended up being imprisoned for 27 years.

In the 1880s, younger children were sent to Carlisle Indian School, an off-reservation Indian boarding school.

“Carlisle was the first Indian boarding school in Pennsylvania established by the United States government to assimilate our students,” she said.

“This is how they would show how they (the United States government) would kill the Indian and save the man,” Sisquoc said.

The idea of the Off-reservation Indian boarding school was created by retired General Richard Pratt.

During that period, Harriet Beecher Stowe described the warriors as, “wild blood thirsty savages who terrified Americans.”

Sisquoc said that Pratt’s idea was to remove the children from their Native American families and to eventually wipe out any remnant of Indian culture in them.

These schools were created to assimilate and solve the “Indian problem”.

The age of the students ranged from five to 20 years of age.

The brothers and sister of Anthony Largo, her great grandfather, attended Perris Indian School, which opened in the 1890.

“I was born at the campus of the Sherman Institute (in Riverside), at the time, now Sherman Indian High School,” Sisquoc said.

Sisquoc said that being raised on campus was not like being raised on a reservation or with Native American culture.

Sisquoc shared how she was not allowed to speak her Native language.

“If you spoke your language, you’d get a whipping,” said Sisquoc.

“I got paddled for speaking in my language in the junior high in the 1980s.

“The teachers were stricter back then, especially to kids that they thought they needed to save and make better.”

Her grandmother Ida Gooday Largo attended several Indian Schools.

The Indian High School students received a certificate in industrial trades in the tenth grade.

Gooday eventually went to a “normal” high school and received her high school diploma in 1927.

Sisquoc was not sure why a regular high school would be called “normal.”

During her talk, Sisquoc held up two pictures of a young Native American boy. One image showed him with dark skin, long hair and dressed in his traditional Native American attire.

The next picture showed the same boy, only his skin was lighter, and his hair was shorter and parted on the side. He was dressed in conservative clothing.

Sisquoc shared that this was an example of how Native Americans were forced to relinquish their culture.

“This is a sample of the promotional photography that was used to promote Carlisle’s solving the Indian problem,” Sisquoc said.

According to Sisquoc, the Indian Problem was the United States dealing with the Native Americans that wanted to keep their land and maintain their cultural ways. “(We) were in the way of progress to them,” Sisquoc said.

Native Americans were forced to cut their long hair, could not speak their language or wear their traditional clothes, and were required to learn new religious studies.

The objective was to immerse the Native Americans into mainstream culture. At the off-reservation Indian boarding schools, the Outing Program was implemented. The program placed Native American students with “good white families,” during vacation, to further assimilate them, according to Sisquoc.

Next week, we will read about the some of the positive outcomes of having to live and learn at an off reservation Indian school.

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