Alaska Native policy, including educational policy, did not occur in a vacuum. These selections from Federal Indian policy allow us to see how assimilation policy--with all the attending destruction of Native American languages, cultures and social cohension--were a part of a larger and darker chapter in American history.

Many times people respond to the destruction of Native American languages and cultures by pointing out that European languages were also attacked in the United States. How are these circumstances different? If the immigrants gave up their languages and cultures in the United States, at least somewhere those languages and cultures continued in the "old country." For Native American societies THIS is the old country and if the language and culture is wiped out here, it is wiped from the earth. Many Native languages and cultures were so destroyed. A second difference is that European immigrants chose to come to the United States while for Native American Nations the United States came, saw, and occupied much of our lands. There is not point in guilt about this but neither should there be any lies of "manifest destiny." Manifest destiny deserves to be tossed on the dust bin of racism disguised as history.

To thinking differently. ...Paul Ongtooguk

Documents of United States Indian Policy

Second Edition, Expanded

Edited by

Francis Paul Prucha

University of Nebraska Press • Lincoln/London

From "Documents of United States Indian Policy, Second Edition, Expanded, edited by Francis Paul Prucha by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 1975, 1990 by the University of Nebraska Press." Book available from the University of Nebraska Press on-line catalog at


105. Use of English in Indian Schools

Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs

September 21, 1887

One of the chief tools in bringing white civilization to the Indians was the English language. Commissioner J.D.C. Atkins, in his annual report of 1887, argued for the exclusive use of English at all Indian schools and reprinted some of his directives.

. . . Longer and closer consideration of the subject has only deepened my conviction that it is a matter not only of importance, but of necessity that the Indians acquire the English language as rapidly as possible. The Government has entered upon the great work of educating and citizenizing the Indians and establishing them upon homesteads. The adults are expected to assume the role of citizens, and of course the rising generation will be expected and required more nearly to fill the measure of citizenship, and the main purpose of educating them is to enable them to read, write, and speak the English language and to transact business with English-speaking people. When they take upon themselves the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship their vernacular will be of no advantage. Only through the medium of the English tongue can they acquire a knowledge of the Constitution of the country and their rights and duties thereunder.

Every nation is jealous of its own language, and no nation ought to be more so than ours, which approaches nearer than any other nationality to the perfect protection of its people. True Americans all feel that the Constitution, laws, and institutions of the United States, in their adaptation to the wants and requirements of man, are superior to those of any other country; and they should understand that by the spread of the English language will these laws and institutions be more firmly established and widely disseminated. Nothing so surely and perfectly stamps upon an individual a national characteristic as language. So manifest and important is this that nations the world over, in both ancient and modern times, have ever imposed the strictest requirements upon their public schools as to the teaching of the national tongue. Only English, has been allowed to be taught in the public schools in the territory acquired by this country from Spain, Mexico, and Russia, although the native populations spoke other tongue. All are familiar with the recent prohibitory order of the German Empire forbidding the teaching of the French language in either public or private schools in Alsace and Lorraine. Although the population is almost universally opposed to German rule, they are firmly held to German political allegiance by the military hand of the Iron Chancellor, If the Indians were in Germany or France or any other civilized country, they should be instructed in the language there used. As they are in an English-speaking country, they must be taught the language which they must use in transacting business with the people of this country. No unity or community of feeling can be established among different peoples unless they arc brought to speak the same language, and thus become imbued with like ideas of duty.

Deeming it for the very best interest of the Indian, both as an individual and as an embryo citizen, to have this policy strictly enforced among the various schools on Indian reservations, orders have been issued accordingly to Indian agents, and the texts of the orders and of some explanations made thereof are given below:

DECEMBER 14, 1886.

In all schools conducted by missionary organizations it is required that all instructions shall be given in the English language.

FEBRUARY 2, 1887.

In reply I have to advise you that the rule applies to all schools on Indian reservations, whether they be Government or mission Schools. The instruction of the Indians in the vernacular is not only of no use to them, but is detrimental to the cause of their education and civilization, and no school will be permitted on the reservation in which the English language is not exclusively taught.

JULY 16, 1887.

Your attention is called to the regulation of this office which forbids instruction in schools in any Indian language. This rule applies to all schools on an Indian reservation, whether Government or mission schools. The education of Indians in the vernacular is not only of no use to them, but is detrimental to their education and civilization.

You are instructed to see that this rule is rigidly enforced in all schools upon the reservation under your charge.

No mission school will be allowed upon the reservation which does not comply with the regulation.

The following was sent to representatives of all societies having contracts with this bureau for the conduct of Indian schools:

JULY 16, 1887.

Your attention is called to the provisions of the contracts for educating Indian pupils, which provides that the schools shall "teach the ordinary branches of an English education." This provision must be faithfully adhered to, and no books in any Indian language must be used or instruction given in that language to Indian pupils in any school where this office has entered into contract for the education of Indians. The same rule prevails in all Government Indian schools and will be strictly enforced in all contract and other Indian schools.

The instruction of Indians in the vernacular is not only of no use to them, but is detrimental to the cause of their education and civilization, and it will not be permitted in any Indian school over which the Government has any control, or in which it has any interest whatever.

This circular has been sent to all parties who have contracted to educate Indian pupils during the present fiscal year.

You will see that this regulation is rigidly enforced in the schools under your direction where Indians are placed under contract.

I have given the text of these orders in detail because various misrepresentations and complaints in regard to them have been made, and various misunderstandings seem to have arisen. They do not, as has been urged, touch the question of the preaching of the Gospel in the churches nor in any wise hamper or hinder the efforts of missionaries to bring the various tribes to a knowledge of the Christian religion. Preaching of the Gospel to Indians in the vernacular is, of course, not prohibited. In fact, the question of the effect of this policy upon any missionary body was not considered. All the office insists upon is that in the schools established for the rising generation of Indians shall be taught the language of the Republic of which they are to become citizens.

It is believed that if any Indian vernacular is allowed to be taught by the missionaries in schools on Indian reservations, it will prejudice the youthful pupil as well as his untutored and uncivilized or semi-civilized parent against the English language, and, to some extent at least, against Government schools in which the English language exclusively has always been taught. To teach Indian school children their native tongue is practically to exclude English, and to prevent them from acquiring it. This language, which is good enough for a white man and a black man, ought to be good enough for the red man. It is also believed that teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him. The first step to be taken toward civilization, toward teaching the Indians the mischief and folly of continuing in their barbarous practices, is to teach them the English language. The impracticability, if not impossibility, of civilizing the Indians of this country in any other tongue than our own would seem to be obvious, especially in view of the fact that the number of Indian vernaculars is even greater than the number of tribes. Bands of the same tribes inhabiting different localities have different dialects, and sometimes can not communicate with each other except by the sign language. If we expect to infuse into the rising generation the leaven of American citizenship, we must remove the stumbling blocks of hereditary customs and manners, and of these language is one of the most important elements. . . .

[House Executive Document no. 1, 50th Cong., 1st sess., serial 2542, pp. 19-21.]


106. Marriage Between White Men and Indian Women

August 9, 1888

The effects of marriage between white men and Indian women were regulated in this law of 1888.

An act in relation to marriage between white men and Indian women.

Be it enacted . . . , That no white man, not otherwise a member of any tribe of Indians, who may hereafter marry, an Indian woman, member of any Indian tribe in the United States, or any of its Territories except the five civilized tribes in the Indian Territory, shall by such marriage hereafter acquire any right to any tribal property, privilege, or interest whatever to which any member of such tribe is entitled.

SEC. 2. That every Indian woman, member of any such tribe of Indians, who may hereafter be married to any citizen of the United States, is hereby declared to become by such marriage a citizen of the United States, with all the rights, privileges, and immunities of any such citizen, being a married woman: Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall impair or in any way affect the right or title of such married woman to any tribal property or any interest therein.

SEC. 3. That whenever the marriage of any white man with any Indian woman, a member of any such tribe of Indians, is required or offered to be proved in any judicial proceeding, evidence of the admission of such fact by the party against whom the proceeding is had, or evidence of general repute, or of cohabitation as married persons, or any other circumstantial or presumptive evidence from which the fact may inferred, shall be competent.

[U.S. Statutes at Large, 25:392.]


107. Indian Commissioner Morgan on Indian Policy

Extract from the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs

October 1, 1889

Thomas J. Morgan, appointed commissioner of Indian affairs in 1889, was a man of strong convictions about the need to Americanize the Indians and absorb them into white society. In his first annual report, he set forth his general views.

. . . . Unexpectedly called to this responsible position, I entered upon the discharge of its duties with a few simple, well-defined, and strongly-cherished convictions:

First.—The anomalous position heretofore occupied by the Indians in this country can not much longer be maintained. The reservation system belongs to a "vanishing state of things" and must soon cease to exist.

Second.—The logic of events demands the absorption of the Indians into our national life, not as Indians, but as American citizens.

Third.—As soon as a wise conservatism will warrant it, the relations of the Indians to the Government must rest solely upon the full recognition of their individuality. Each Indian must be treated as a man, be allowed a man’s rights and privileges, and be held to the performance of a man’s obligations. Each Indian is entitled to his proper share of the inherited wealth of the tribe, and to the protection of the courts in his "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness." He is not entitled to be supported in idleness.

Fourth.—The Indians must conform to "the white man’s ways," peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must. They must adjust themselves to their environment, and conform their mode of living substantially to our civilization. This civilization may not be the best possible, but it is the best the Indians can get. They can not escape it, and must either conform to it or be crushed by it.

Fifth.—The paramount duty of the hour is to prepare the rising generation of Indians for the new order of things thus forced upon them. A comprehensive system of education modeled after the American public-school system, but adapted to the special exigencies of the Indian youth, embracing all persons of school age, compulsory in its demands and uniformly administered, should be developed as rapidly as possible.

Sixth.—The tribal relations should be broken up, socialism destroyed, and the family and the autonomy of the individual substituted. The allotment of lands in severalty, the establishment of local courts and police, the development of a personal sense of independence, and the universal adoption of the English language are means to this end.

Seventh.—In the administration of Indian affairs there is need and opportunity for the exercise of the same qualities demanded in any other great administration—integrity, justice, patience, and good sense. Dishonesty, injustice, favoritism, and incompetency have no place here any more than elsewhere in the Government.

Eighth.—The chief thing to be considered in the administration of this office is the character of the men and women employed to carry out the designs of the Government. The best system may be perverted to bad ends by incompetent or dishonest persons employed to carry it into execution, while a very bad system may yield good results if wisely and honestly administered. . . .

[House Executive Document no. 1, 51st Cong., 1st sess., serial 2725, pp. 3-4.]


108. Supplemental Report on Indian Education

December 1, 1889


In October 1889, Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan presented at the Lake Mohonk Conference a detailed plan for a national system of Indian schools, modeled on the public school system of the states. Having received the support of the reformers at the conference, he submitted the plan to the secretary of the interior as a "Supplemental Report on Indian Education." After presenting the general principles that are reprinted here, he outlined provisions for high schools, grammar schools, and day schools.



The American Indians, not including the so-called Indians of Alaska, are supposed to number about 250,000, and to have a school population (six to sixteen years) of perhaps 50,000. If we exclude the five civilized tribes which provide for the education of their own children and the New York Indians, who are provided for by that State, the number of Indians of school age to be educated by the Government does not exceed 36,000, of whom 15,000 were enrolled in schools last year, leaving but 21,000 to be provided with school privileges.

These people are separated into numerous tribes, and differ very widely in their language, religion, native characteristics, and modes of life. Some are very ignorant and degraded, living an indolent and brutish sort of life, while others have attained to a high degree of civilization, scarcely inferior to that of their white neighbors. Any generalizations regarding these people must, therefore, be considered as applicable to any particular tribe with such modifications as its peculiar place in the scale of civilization warrants. It is certainly true, however, that as a mass the Indians are far below the whites of this country in their general intelligence and mode of living. They enjoy very few of the comforts, and almost none of the luxuries, which are the pride and boast of their more fortunate neighbors.

When we speak of the education of the Indians, we mean that comprehensive system of training and instruction which will convert them into American citizens, put within their reach the blessings which the rest of us enjoy, and enable them to compete successfully with the white man on his own ground and with his own methods. Education is to be the medium through which the rising generation of Indians are to be brought into fraternal and harmonious relationship with their white fellow-citizens, and with them enjoy the sweets of refined homes, the delight of social intercourse, the emoluments of commerce and trade, the advantages of travel, together with the pleasures that come from literature, science, and philosophy, and the solace and stimulus afforded by a true religion.

That such a great revolution for these people is possible is becoming more and more evident to those who have watched with an intelligent interest the work which, notwithstanding all its hindrances and discouragements, has been accomplished for them during the last few years. It is no longer doubtful that, under a wise system of education, carefully administered, the condition of this whole people can be radically improved in a single generation.

Under the peculiar relations which the Indians sustain to the Government of the United States, the responsibility for their education rests primarily and almost wholly upon the nation. This grave responsibility, which has now been practically assumed by the Government, must be borne by it alone. It can not safely or honorably either shirk it or delegate it to any other party. The task is not by any means an Herculean one. The entire Indian school population is less than that of Rhode Island. The Government of the United States, now one of the richest on the face of the earth, with an overflowing Treasury, has at its command unlimited means, and can undertake and complete this work without feeling it to be in any degree a burden. Although very imperfect in its details, and needing to be modified and improved in many particulars, the present system of schools is capable, under wise direction, of accomplishing all that can be desired.

In order that the Government shall be able to secure the best results in the education of the Indians, certain things are desirable, indeed, I might say necessary, viz:

First. Ample provision should be made at an early day for the accommodation of the entire mass of Indian school children and youth. To resist successfully and overcome the tremendous downward pressure of inherited prejudice and the stubborn conservatism of centuries, nothing less than universal education should be attempted,

Second. Whatever steps are necessary should be taken to place these children under proper educational influences. If, under any circumstances, compulsory education is justifiable, it certainly is in this case. Education, in the broad sense in which it is here used, is the Indians only salvation. With it they will become honorable, useful, happy citizens of a great republic, sharing on equal terms in all its blessings. Without it they are doomed either to destruction or to hopeless degradation.

Third. The work of Indian education should be completely systematized. The camp schools, agency boarding schools, and the great industrial schools should be related to each other so as to form a connected and complete whole. So far as possible there should be a uniform course of study, similar methods of instruction, the same textbooks, and a carefully organized and well-understood system of industrial training.

Fourth. The system should be conformed, so far as practicable, to the common-school system now universally adopted in all the States. It should be non-partisan, non-sectarian. The teachers and employees should be appointed only after the most rigid scrutiny into their qualifications for their work. They should have a stable tenure of office, being removed only for cause. They should receive for their service wages corresponding to those paid for similar service in the public schools. They should be carefully inspected and supervised by a sufficient number of properly qualified superintendents.

Fifth. While, for the present, special stress should be laid upon that kind of industrial training which will fit the Indians to earn an honest living in the various occupations which may be open to them, ample provision should also be made for that general literary culture which the experience of the white race has shown to be the very essence of education. Especial attention should be directed toward giving them a ready command of the English language. To this end, only English should be allowed to be spoken, and only English-speaking teachers should be employed in schools supported wholly or in part by the Government.

Sixth. The scheme should make ample provision for the higher education of the few who are endowed with special capacity or ambition, and are destined to leadership. There is an imperative necessity for this, if the Indians are to be assimilated into the national life.

Seventh. That which is fundamental in all this is the recognition of the complete manhood of the Indians, their individuality, their right to be recognized as citizens of the United States, with the same rights and privileges which we accord to any other class of people. They should be free to make for themselves homes wherever they will. The reservation system is an anachronism which has no place in our modern civilization. The Indian youth should be instructed in their rights, privileges, and duties as American citizens; should be taught to love the American flag; should be imbued with a genuine patriotism, and made to feel that the United States, and not some paltry reservation, is their home. Those charged with their education should constantly strive to awaken in them a sense of independence, self-reliance, and self-respect.

Eighth. Those educated in the large industrial boarding-schools should not be returned to the camps against their will, but should be not only allowed, but encouraged to choose their own vocations, and contend for the prizes of life wherever the opportunities are most favorable. Education should seek the disintegration of the tribes, and not their segregation. They should be educated, not as Indians, but as Americans. In short, the public school should do for them what it is so successfully doing for all the other races in this country, assimilate them.

Ninth. The work of education should begin with them while they are young and susceptible, and should continue until habits of industry and love of learning have taken the place of indolence and indifference. One of the chief defects which have heretofore characterized the efforts made for their education has been the failure to carry them far enough, so that they might compete successfully with the white youth, who have enjoyed the far greater advantages of our own system of education. Higher education is even more essential to them than it is for white children.

Tenth. Special pains should be taken to bring together in the large boarding-schools members of as many different tribes as possible, in order to destroy the tribal antagonism and to generate in them a feeling of common brotherhood and mutual respect. Wherever practicable, they should be admitted on terms of equality into the public schools, where, by daily contact with white children, they may learn to respect them and become respected in turn. Indeed, it is reasonable to expect that at no distant day, when the Indians shall have all taken up their lands in severalty and have become American citizens, there will cease to be any necessity for Indian schools maintained by the Government. The Indians, where it is impracticable for them to unite with their white neighbors, will maintain their own schools.

Eleventh. Co-education of the sexes is the surest and perhaps only way in which the Indian women can be lifted out of that position of servility and degradation which most of them now occupy, on to a plane where their husbands and the men generally will treat them with the same gallantry and respect which is accorded to their more favored white sisters.

Twelfth. The happy results already achieved at Carlisle, Hampton, and elsewhere, by the so-called "outing system," which consists in placing Indian pupils in white families where they are taught the ordinary routine of housekeeping, farming, etc., and are brought into intimate relationship with the highest type of American rural life, suggests the wisdom of a large extension of the system. By this means they acquire habits of industry, a practical acquaintance with civilized life, a sense of independence, enthusiasm for home, and the practical ability to earn their own living. This system has in it the "promise and the potency" of their complete emancipation.

Thirteenth. Of course, it is to be understood that, in addition to all of the work here outlined as belonging to the Government for the education and civilization of the Indians, there will be requisite the influence of the home, the Sabbath-school, the church, and religious institutions of learning. There will be urgent need of consecrated missionary work and liberal expenditure of money on the part of individuals and religious organizations in behalf of these people. Christian schools and colleges have already been established for them by missionary zeal, and others will doubtless follow. But just as the work of the public schools is supplemented in the States by Christian agencies, so will the work of Indian education by the Government be supplemented by the same agencies. There need be no conflict and no unseemly rivalry. The Indians, like any other class of citizens, will be free to patronize those schools which they believe to be best adapted to their purpose. . . .

[House Executive Document no. 1, 51st Cong., 1st sess., serial 2725, pp. 93-97.]

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