"There were kids who were Lakota, and there were kids who were Wampanoag. At Carlisle, they became Indian."
- Barbara Landis, Carlisle Indian School biographer, 2000
erosion of Native-American sovereignty was swift and unrelenting.
Propelled by a hunger for land, gold, power and control, it swallowed
up everything in its path, including communities, languages and
religions. No matter the Nez Perce were distinct from the Navajo, the
Seneca from the Seminole, the Coeur D'Alene from the Crow. They were
one in their difference.
Repercussions of the Carlisle Indian
School experience are still felt today, often in unsuspected ways. In
March, National Public Radio reported that Native Americans were the
most undercounted ethnic group in the US Census, in part because older
members of the "boarding-school generation" remember that when they
gave their names to government agents, they were "carted off
Most of the 2 million Native Americans living in
this country have some sort of biological link to Carlisle or one of
the boarding schools created in its wake. There is also a shared sense
of inner conflict. It is difficult for many Indian people to fully
condemn or condone Carlisle. But they agree the disintegration of
Indian cultures and the arrogant racism toward native people is
Much of the inner turmoil Carlisle has spawned
revolves around the question of what the lives of native peoples would
have been like without Carlisle and similar boarding schools. Barbara
Landis, who researches the Indian School for the Cumberland County
Historical Society, points out that the children's lives were less than
idyllic before they came to Carlisle.
"It was just about the end of
the treaty-making era," Landis explains. All the major battles between
Indians and the US military were over except for the massacre at
Wounded Knee, which would take place in 1890. But the children would
have had some memory of the wars, in which their parents and
grandparents had participated.
"The only place for Indians was
in the agency [reservation]," Landis says. "Emotionally, the structure
of their world changed with the agencies, the rations, a whole new way
of eating, not being able to hunt buffalo."
"Most people around here
are proud their children and ancestors went there," Sterling Hollow
Horn says of the Carlisle Indian School. "But four- and five-year-olds
were being taken from their families. There was a lot of confusion from
parents, but more so from the children. Carlisle was good, and it was
bad. It depends how you want to look at it. I personally think it was
good. It showed Indian kids were intelligent. But I know a lot of
people would disagree with me."
Ed Farnham has only begun to
wrestle with his feelings about Carlisle. "It's a touchy subject," he
says. "On the one hand, you had all these Indians coming together to
play football and being a dominating force. That was great, and that
never would have happened [otherwise]. But losing or suppressing your
cultural identity, that's not good.
"I know things would have
been different if my relatives hadn't come here. My grandmother
wouldn't have been a seamstress. My uncle wouldn't have gone to Europe
and done all he did."
Though her grandmother described her time
at Carlisle as pleasant, Lynne Allen feels boarding schools contributed
to her own confusion about cultural identity. Though Allen is a
descendant of Chief Sitting Bull, she is only one-sixteenth Lakota -
not enough to be officially recognized by the tribe as a member. "Being
part Indian and not belonging anywhere was something [my mother]
carried with her her whole life," Allen explains. "It's something she
passed on to me, this feeling of being marginalized.
"Part of me
knows it helped a lot of people survive in the world. But there were
people who stayed on the reservations and survived, too. It was the
age, it was the era of missionaries and zealots trying to 'help the
savages.' ... I don't know what would've happened if they wouldn't have