By DEXTER DUGGAN
PHOENIX — The Obama administration celebrated people dropping out of the workforce as becoming liberated from the pressures of earning money. However, a woman who identified herself online as half-Seminole expressed skepticism that dependence on government would work any better for the unemployed than it had for Indian tribes.
“In my old age, I’ve observed this generation of non-Native American descent who lap up the government handouts of food stamps, medical care, EBT cards, Section 8 housing, Obama phones, and look to the government for [sustenance], and demand more government dole,” wrote Veronica Valentino at the Arizona Daily Independent web site.
“When did they become reservation Indians? It didn’t work for us; what makes them think that it will work for them?”
The Obama administration’s spin about the alleged joys of being able to stay off the time clock followed embarrassing news about additional negative effects of Obamacare. The Washington Post reported on February 4:
“More than 2 million Americans who would otherwise rely on a job for health insurance will quit working, reduce their hours, or stop looking for employment because of new health benefits available under the Affordable Care Act, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday.”
Valentino, who described herself as a conservative Republican, was reacting online to an early February article I wrote for the Arizona Daily Independent about U.S. government suppression and control of Indian youngsters in an “Americanization” program beginning in the latter 19th century.
Information about the program is in a long-running exhibit at a prominent Phoenix repository of Native American culture, the Heard Museum, titled, “Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience, 1879 to Present.”
She commented that the “tribal people who were left, particularly the children, weren’t asked, but rather forced, into boarding and religious schools in an attempt to ensure that most of them would end up in entry-level or services jobs. Rarely did a Native American doctor, nurse, lawyer, senator, or representative come out of those schools until maybe the mid-20th century. In spite of all the injustices foisted on the tribes by the U.S. government, we survived, but pitifully so.”
Video, audio, text, and various displays provide the story of the federal system of Indian boarding schools at the Heard Museum (www.heard.org), 2301 N. Central Ave.
The story is a strong reminder of why conservatives believe it’s usually if not always better to avoid being at the mercy of government planners more likely to see you as a small statistic in their overall design.
In fact, conservatives often used to cite American Indian reservations as an example of the damage caused by government dependency. It doesn’t seem conservatives say this so much these days. Has “political correctness” scared them off? Has assimilation mainstreamed even more of the former “rez” residents into city life? Or has greater tribal self-governance lessened — although certainly not ended — reservation difficulties?
After European settlers began arriving in force in the United States, Indian lives usually weren’t regarded as very precious — think of the early 19th century’s “Trail of Tears,” described as “ethnic cleansing” by forced marches of various tribes. But at least there was no successful effort to wipe them out wholesale, as Germany’s National Socialists later attempted against European Jewry.
Assimilating, acculturating, and Americanizing the Indians was the benevolent authoritarian idea. Benevolent because the students were intended to become productive, participating members of a Christian society. Authoritarian because they had no option.
The D.C. officials lacing up this straitjacket likely thought themselves upstanding Christians.
A school official in 1884 is quoted: “When one Indian boy or girl leaves this school with an education, the ‘Indian Problem’ will forever be solved for him and his children.”
However, government bureaucrats decided there was a certain niche for youngsters once they were taken from their families. “Girls were smart enough to be secretaries, that was it,” says one recollection from the 20th century. “Boys were taught welding, auto mechanics, and bricklaying. These were the only things we were told we were good at.”
Young students were put on particular career paths because bureaucrats’ hives in Washington, D.C., presumed to know better how they should live their lives. Bureaucracy as usual, regardless of the century.
To be sure, early on the youngsters were living in what had to be judged primitive conditions in their villages before they were snatched from their families. They were shipped off to be deloused, renamed, sheared of their long hair, put into trousers, and photographed with pained, lost expressions on their faces.
A little boy with a new “American” name had been forced into a very different world. But his previous special clothing accented with porcupine quills back in the village showed that parents can love children by a campfire every bit as much as with electric lights.
A Sioux girl in 1900 said that in her new life, “for now, I was only one of many little animals driven by a herder.”
Military-style marching everywhere on campus was thought to be good to teach the students discipline.
These days, we’d say that surely no modern court would allow youngsters to be grabbed like this, with the direct intention of thoroughly remaking them culturally, and without their parents’ permission. Oh, really?
Aside from the fact that today’s progressive courts and bureaucrats usually don’t put the kids on passenger trains for a thousand-mile trip, current cultural transformation is intended to be just as thorough — so that students will be singing from the songbooks of Planned Parenthood and the LGBTQ choir, although Moms and Dads of all races vainly plead against such thought control.
Some of the earlier Indian youngsters pined away for the old life and home until they died, but the majority survived. A touching photograph of the cemetery at the Carlisle, Penn., Indian Industrial School catches the transition from native names and beliefs to the newer world.
All of the tombstones have Christian crosses on them. One says simply, “Dora, Daughter of Brave Bull, Sioux, April 21, 1888.” Another: “Nannie Little Robe, Cheyenne, Feb. 15, 1895.”
One part of the exhibit says: “Children were separated from their families for a minimum of five years, and sometimes longer. Many returned home dramatically changed, unfit to live in the communities they had left so long ago. Others returned to become teachers, leaders, and artists in their communities.”
Year after year passed. The campuses took on touches of ordinary high schools. The display cases at the Heard Museum show that, moving deeper into the 20th century, there were sports trophies, prizes for debating skills, yearbooks, letterman sweaters, cheerleader clinics, choir robes, and graduation gowns and tassels.
Tribal symbols had been unthinkable when the immediate goal was to remake the youngsters culturally. However, acknowledgment of Indian heritage later became acceptable again — not only for coed musicians being able to wear the velveteen shirts and (faux) turquoise that their grandmothers did in northeastern Arizona, but also with the creation of Indian clubs and powwows to share experiences among students.
Eventually, the federal government saw the errors to its standardization policies and off-the-reservation boarding schools — even though the elite governing class moved on to enforcing other socio-cultural errors in Barack Obama’s 21st century.
The Phoenix Indian School, once a bustling institution in central Phoenix, eventually was phased out, with instruction available now back on the reservations, and most of the old campus converted into a public park.
A few blocks east of the old campus today is the privately operated, nine-table Sacred Hogan restaurant, specializing in Navajo food, with two different Navajo newspapers by the cash register. The restaurant is on Indian School Road, a major local street that keeps alive the memory of where it got its name.
What’s done can’t be undone, and certainly there were some very positive aspects to bringing Indian people out of primitive lives. A second online commenter to my Arizona Daily Independent story said that, aside from spending a novelty weekend in the wilderness, people appreciate their modern lives:
“Most of us today wouldn’t condone taking small children from their homes. This was done from ignorance. However, I’m pretty sure there would be few takers among the young and old Native American folks today living on/off the reservations to go back to life without modern Western medicine, education, appliances, Internet, transportation, food, etc.”
That’s no doubt true for the 99.9 percent. Declining into a life of helpless dependence, however, is quite a different matter. And howling under the heel of Obamacare witch doctors is even a worse prospect than 19th-century Christian bureaucrats.