Academics and Vocational Training
“It was very difficult for me at first, for students at the school were not allowed to speak the language of the Indians. At the time I understood nothing else.”
-Wayquahgeshig (John Rogers; White Earth Ojibwe), 1974
Children were taught to march, to pray, and to speak, read and write English. The Indian Service attempted to standardize the boarding school curriculum with the Course of Study for the Indian Schools of the United States, 1901 by Estelle Reel, Superintendent of Indian Schools. The introductory letter to Agents, Superintendents and Teachers of Government Schools states:
Carlisle Indian School student body, March 1892. J.N. Choate, photographer. Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. RC125(7)18.104.22.168
Classroom at Gila Crossing School, May 1904. Clarence Miller, photographer. Clarence W. Miller photographic collection. 11.2
Singing class at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1890. Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. RC125(6)1.2.10.
Genoa Indian School classroom, Genoa, Nebraska, 1911. Genoa U.S. Indian School Foundation and the Genoa Historical Museum.
Miss Robertson’s classroom, Chilocco Indian School, Newkirk, Oklahoma, 1913. National Archives and Records Administration, Fort Worth, Texas.
Haskell Institute domestic sciences class, c. 1900. Haskell Archives, Haskell Cultural Center and museum, Lawrence, Kansas.
Sewing class at Flandreau Indian School, Flandreau, South Dakota, c. 1900. State Archives, South Dakota State Historical Society. RC125(6)1.8.2.
Ironing at Sherman Indian School, Riverside, California, c. 1910. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. RC125(6)1.29.1.
Laundry at Crow Agency Boarding School, Big Horn County, Montana, c. 1890. National Archives and Records Adminitration. RC125(7)22.214.171.124.
Baking class at Flandreau Indian School, Flandreau, South Dakota, c. 1900. State Archives, South Dakota State Historical Society. RC125(7) 126.96.36.199.
Vocational training in carpentry at Hampton Institute, c. 1890. Hampton University Archives, Hampton, Virginia. RC125(7)188.8.131.52.
“The aim of the course is to give the Indian child a knowledge of the English language, and to equip him with the ability to become self-supporting as speedily as possible. . . Hoping that better morals, a more patriotic and Christian citizenship, and ability for self-support will result from what this course of study may inspire.”
-Estelle Reel, Course of Study for the Indian Schools of the United States, 1901
Estelle Reel was Superintendent of Indian Schools from 1898 to 1910, appointed by President William McKinley. She was responsible for hundreds of federal boarding and day schools, both on and off reservations. She wrote the Uniform Course of Study for the Indian Schools of the United States (1901) to standardize the schools’ curricula.
The course of study emphasized vocational and domestic instruction equally with academic subjects. Boys’ study focused on trades such as shoemaking, and girls studied domestic arts such as sewing.
The Outing Program
“One day I was called up to the first floor where a little glass house was built. Mr. Walker took me inside. There were several large trunks there. Inside the trunks was considerable valuable jewelry. Mr. Walker instructed me that my new work was to put price tags on this jewelry. So every day I was locked inside this little glass house, opening the trunks, taking out the jewels and putting price tags on them. How the white folks did crowd around to watch me! They were greatly surprised to discover that John Wanamaker could trust an Indian boy with such valuables.”
-Luther Standing Bear, student at Carlisle Indian School, on Outing at Wanamaker’s Department Store in Philadelphia, 1884
The Outing Program was developed to supplement classroom instruction. Students received practical experience in local homes as domestic helpers and on farms as laborers during summer months and holidays. They sometimes were paid a small salary that went directly to the schools to be placed in savings accounts for the students. They were given a small amount for spending money. This system effectively kept students away from their families and homes while immersing them completely in the “civilization” process.
The Outing Program reflected the federal intention to fit Indian people into the lower economic sectors of American society, to work as farmers, manual and unskilled laborers, or domestic workers. The Outing Program varied from school to school and changed over the history of boarding schools. What was a summer-long program at Carlisle Indian School was one day or weekend labor throughout the school year at Phoenix Indian School, working in someone’s home or business.
Even the youngest students had work details. Details included gardening, cleaning, kitchen chores and laundry. The U.S. Indian Schools depended on student labor to remain in operation.
Annie Coodlalook and unknown Carlisle student, feeding chickens at Quincy-Wertz Farm, 1904. Courtesy of Marion S. and David W. Ellis. (4897-1 a&b).
Laundry room at Riverside Indian School, Anadarko, Oklahoma, 1901 Robbins Collection #16116, Archives & manuscripts Division of the Oklahoma Historical Society. RC125(6) 1.25.2.
Vocational training for young students at Gila Crossing School, 1905. Clarence Miller, photographer. Clarence W. Miller photographic collection, 43.3.
Clarence W. Miller with students and staff pulling turnips at Phoenix Indian School, 1904. Clarence W. Miller photographic collection, 37.1.
Working on the farm at Haskell Institute, 1920. Haskell Cultural Center and Museum, Lawrence, Kansas.
Grand Junction Indian School chicken farm, c. 1900. Shades of L.A., Native American Community Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.
Victor waxing floor at Sherman Institute, Riverside, California, c. 1950. Sherman Indian High School Museum, Riverside, California. RC125(7)184.108.40.206.
Knowing the Drill
The model for the federal boarding schools established by Richard Pratt, an army officer, was based on the U.S. military. Students’ hair was cut short and they were dressed in military uniforms and organized into companies separated by gender. Drills and inspections were part of the regimented lifestyle, marked by bugle calls and a bell system. Students looked and acted like soldiers, and they were favorably viewed as good candidates for recruitment by the military. Life at the Indian boarding schools prepared students for military service.
“Too much praise cannot be given to the merits of military organization, drill and routine in connection with the discipline of the school; every good end is obtained thereby. It teaches patriotism, obedience, courage, courtesy, promptness, and consistency; besides, in my opinion, it outranks any other plan or system in producing and developing every good moral, mental, and physical quality of the pupil.”
-Superintendent Harwood Hall, Phoenix Indian School, to the commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1897
Phoenix Indian School like all of the U.S. Indian Schools established in the late 1900s was based on a military school model, with uniforms, inspections, drill routines, and daily schedules managed by bells or whistles. Military discipline was a sign of “civilization.”
In 1912 an Arizona National Guard unit, Company F was formed, comprised of older Indian school students and former students who lived in the Phoenix area. In 1915 Company F was sent to Clifton-Morenci during the copper mine strike. Once the strike was settled, the unit was sent to southeastern Arizona, in response to raids by Pancho Villa. The unit was stationed in Naco for a year. In April 1917 President Wilson declared war on Germany, and 64 students from Phoenix Indian School volunteered to serve, despite the fact that they weren’t citizens.
Memorial Hall, a Mission and Romanesque Revival style building, erected by student labor, was built in 1922 to honor the students who served in World War I. In 1924 American Indians were recognized as citizens.
Monday schedule from the Annual Calendar at the Carlisle Indian School, 1915-1916. Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, Teaching Kit
Drill Corps at Phoenix Indian School, c. 1905-1910. Arizona Historical Foundation, University Libraries, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. RC125(7)220.127.116.11
National Guard unit at Phoenix Indian School, c. 1930. Collection of Bureau of Indian Affairs, Phoenix Area Office, Billie Jane Baguley Library and Archives, Heard Museum RC125(7)18.104.22.168
Boys with flags at Albuquerque Indian School, c. 1900. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Bird’s eye view of Phoenix Indian School campus with students marching, c. 1900. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. RC125(7)22.214.171.124
Band and student body in uniform on parade grounds, Phoenix Indian School c. 1900. Billie Jane Baguley Library and Archives, Heard Museum, RC284(2)3.40
Change in Diet
“When I first went to school there, I was horrified at the way they ate. They sat you down at a table about six or eight to a table … and they put the food on and then they blew a whistle or rang a bell and you started. You were supposed to eat. If you weren’t fast … about the first three days I almost starved to death, because I’d sit there and they’d ring this bell and by the time I looked up, the food was all gone. They’d just reach out and grab it.”
-Curtis Carr, Chilocco Indian School, 1927
A major change from home to boarding school was the change in diet. Children were accustomed to indigenous foods and the natural and cultural milieu surrounding food preparation, seasonal gatherings and basic sensory ambience—the sounds, smells and tastes which closely connected to human emotions.
At the U.S. Indian Schools, vegetable gardens, cow and poultry barns were established and worked by the students. Child labor kept the school kitchens self-sufficient and allowed students to eat fresh food.
Yet the nutritional offerings at U.S. Indian Schools varied dramatically from school to school and over time. Even with fresh vegetable gardens, the plantings were usually a starch—like turnips, parsnips and potatoes—which were beneficial but could have been balanced with a mix of greens. Students complained frequently about not having enough to eat.
With reforms in the 1930s, which discouraged student labor, Indian School administrators ended the farm programs and relied on government-issued commodity foods. A food distribution program under the federal government, which included canned and dehydrated foods with a long shelf life, impacted not only U.S. Indian Schools but urban and reservation American Indians.
Canned beef or pork and many dehydrated foods had a high fat content. The combination of high carbohydrate and fatty foods filled students’ stomachs at the federal schools, but provided little in the way of variety and few nutrients in their diets.
“The first three years, all we ever ate, I think, were turnips and parsnips, [which] raise themselves in the farm, and to this day I just hate turnips and parsnips.”
-Geronima Cruz Montoya, Ohkay Owingeh, student at Santa Fe Indian School, 1927 to 1935
“Well at the Indian School I was already used to being away from home [after being placed in a mission school at age 5]. I did miss the Winter Feast Days and I guess at Christmas was the loneliest because I knew that they would be dancing and eating all that good Indian food and here we’d be eating the usual beans and gravy at the Indian School. They never made a big thing for us at the Indian School when I was going to school.”
-Pablita Velarde at Santa Fe Indian School, 1930 (age 12) to 1936
Choose a Church
“I was asked through an interpreter, ‘What denomination are you? What church do you belong to?’ I said, ‘Methodist.’ My uncle had warned me that at Indian School you had to attend church whether you wanted to or not, and he advised me to go Methodist as he had at Carlisle.”
-Fred Kabotie, Hopi, at Santa Fe Indian School, 1918
As the federal government built off-reservation boarding schools, “Christianizing” was a continuing objective of assimilationist policy. Students recited prayers before each meal and sang Christian hymns. Kneeling bedside for nightly prayer and attending a church service on Sunday were mandatory. In 1934 federal policy allowed religious freedom, but in practice, students at residential schools were punished for not attending church up through the 1960s.
Dorm Life and Resistance
Rebellion was a common response to the strict, regimented lifestyle of American Indian boarding schools. Documented student protests include cases of setting fire to a boys’ dormitory at Flandreau Indian School (South Dakota) and cutting electrical cables at Haskell Indian School (Lawrence, Kansas). Most rebellions were small and personal. Sometimes a student would find a fellow tribal member in the dormitory to speak their forbidden Native language. Other students gathered in the woods to hold ceremonies or dances. A Navajo student at Phoenix Indian School collected tassels of corn plants growing on campus and used the yellow pollen to pray.
Male students’ residence at Carlisle Indian School, n.d., J. D. Choate, photographer, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New Haven, Connecticut.
A domestic science dinner at Phoenix Indian School, June 1900, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. RC125(7)126.96.36.199.
Girl’s Sleeping Porch (Winona Hall) at Haskell Institute, 1918. Haskell Cultural Center and Museum, Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kansas.
The art programs at U.S. Indian Schools had varying tolerances for production of traditional American Indian art. Estelle Reel, author of the Course of Study for the Indian Schools of the United States (1901) encouraged production of Native art while maintaining assimilationist beliefs. She directed superintendents of Indian Schools to use Native artists as teachers.
Assimilation through visual art was promoted by Estelle Reel as an opportunity to teach Western aesthetics and dexterity. She promoted the Native Industries Curriculum to prepare students to be economically independent and productive laborers.
“The Indians as a people must be led to see the importance of developing the work they are so gifted in doing, and to help supply the market’s demands; and thus take a long step in the direction of self-support, which, after all, is the end of all Indian education.”
The market Reel refers to is the strong interest by mainstream society to collect and furnish their homes with displays of Indian art. Many of the schools had sales catalogs and sales rooms. Indian school students also demonstrated at World’s Fairs. The World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893), Pan-American Exposition (Buffalo, 1901) and Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis, 1904) all featured full-sized Indian schools, visual symbols of the federal government’s achievements in assimilation.
Portrait of Angel DeCora, c. 1900. Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. RC125(6)1.2.14.
Elizabeth H. Foster’s art class at Carlisle Indian School, c. 1900. F. Johnston, photographer. Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. RC125(7)188.8.131.52.
Weaving class at Carlisle Indian School, c. 1905-1915. Albert A. Line, photographer. Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. RC125(7)184.108.40.206.
Pablita and Rosalie Velarde with other art students at Santa Fe Indian School. 1930. Helen Tindel Collection. RC451(1/1):1.
Dorothy Dunn and Po Qui with Pablita Velarde, at her house, 1963. Blair Clark, photographer. Archives Collection, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico. RC125(6)3.14.
Open house and art exhibition at Phoenix Indian School, c. 1950. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Phoenix, Arizona. RC125(7)220.127.116.11.
Open house event, doll display, at Phoenix Indian School, c. 1950. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Phoenix, Arizona. RC125(6)1.22.123.
Lloyd Kiva New in classroom at Institute of American Indian Art, c. 1970. Institute of American Indian Arts Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Students at easel in classroom, Institute of American Indian Art, c. 1970. Institute of American Indian Arts Archives, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Wilson Mowa (Hopi) “Half Clown and Hunter Kachina Dancer and a Mudhead”, 1973 Watercolor on paper This painting was made at Phoenix Indian School. The artist, after training in the Hopi Silvercraft Cooperative Guild, began making silver overlay jewelry. Gift of Art and Corinne Smith,3607-1
Justino Herrera (Cochiti Pueblo), 1920-2006 “Corn Dancer”, 1940 Watercolor, pencil, ink on poster board Herrera made this painting while a student at Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS). Mr. Herrera continued painting after he finished school at SFIS in 1940. He mostly painted scenes of Pueblo life. Gift of Valona Varnum, 4183-7
Richard Chino (Acoma Pueblo) “Irrigation Work”, 1945 Tempera on paper Student painting made at Santa Fe Indian School. Gift of James T. Bialac, 4456-3
Ernest Medina (Zia Pueblo) “Forest”, 1950 Watercolor on paper Medina made this painting while a student at Santa Fe Indian School. Gift of James T. Bialac, 4456-4
Albert Vigil (San Ildefonso Pueblo), 1927-2009 “Belt Dancer”, 1943 Watercolor on paper This student painting was made at Santa Fe Indian School. The artist was the son of noted painter, Romando Vigil, and nephew of Maria Matinez, an internationally known potter. In 1945, Albert began making pottery with his wife, Josephine Cordova Vigil, from Taos Pueblo. She used traditional methods of hand-coiling and firing and Albert painted designs. Gift of Duane and Jean Humlicek, 4460-16
Music, art and drama were mechanisms to “Americanize” Indian School students. By developing good marching bands and drill teams, supporters and politicians were convinced of the successes of the U.S. Indian School programs.
Pageants and drama programs attempted to replace tribal stories with “American” stories, such as the First Thanksgiving, the saga of Hiawatha and oral traditions about George Washington. Students were dressed in costumes and performed in the roles of both colonized and colonizer in insensitive dramatizations.
Patriotic pageant at Sherman Institute, n.d. Sherman High School Museum, Riverside, California. RC125(7)18.104.22.168
Revolutionary War school play at U.S. Indian School, Fort Totten, North Dakota, 1909. State Historical Society of North Dakota. RC125(6)1.11.6
Students performing “Hiawatha’ at Haskell Institute, Lawrence Kansas, 1922. National Archives Record Administration, Washington, D.C. RC125(7)22.214.171.124
Indians of the Past parade float, Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas, 1920. Kansas State historical Society, Topeka, Kansas. RC125(7)126.96.36.199
Indians of the Present parade float, Haskell Institute, Lawrence, Kansas, 1920. Kansas State historical Society, Topeka, Kansas RC125(7)188.8.131.52
Roman Gurneau, drum major from Haskell Institute, c. 1940, at Kansas University Band Day at American Royale Parade. Haskell Cultural Center and Museum, Lawrence, Kansas.
Phoenix Indian High School band at Papago Buttes, 1982. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Phoenix, Arizona. RC125(7)184.108.40.206.
Athletic Programs and Miss Indian Pageants
In the early years, the boarding school program used sports and princess pageants to teach American values such as competition, physical training and school pride. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Indian children did not know sports such as baseball, basketball and football. In their Indian communities they participated in sports such as lacrosse, foot racing and hoop-and-pole, which reinforced cultural values and traditions.
American Indian boarding schools like Carlisle and Haskell recruited athletes to promote their sports programs and schools. They invested considerable resources in sport facilities. The success of the sports teams brought positive publicity for the schools and engendered support among administrators, the local community and the federal government.
In the early 1900s, school sports programs included football, basketball, track, boxing, wrestling, baseball and tennis. Sports traditions at the schools remained strong over generations and continue to bring together the school and the Native and local communities, who all supported the teams.