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Native American culture

The film, In the White Man’s Image, detailed the ways white Americans tried to assimilate Native Americans into the accepted white culture that was taking over the United States. At first, white men tried to transform Native American men. In 1875, Richard Henry Pratt, a U. S. soldier, took charge of the Cheyenne warriors that were being held captive. The captives were sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. While there, the captives were taught to speak English, were taught the Christian gospel, and were forced to partake in manual labor to learn the value of work.

After their time at Fort Marion, some of the captives were truly changed, and when they all were freed, most returned to their families. After a lesson learned with the Cheyenne warriors, Pratt thought that if he was going to be a success at transforming the Native people, he had to start with Native children. In 1879, Pratt took the Native children to a special school in Pennsylvania where they learned academics for half a day, and worked the other half. Of course, learning Christianity and English were important components of the curriculum. The children were not allowed to visit their homes and visits from family was limited.

Any child that misbehaved was punished. In the end, Pratt’s school was a success. After a decade, the school had 1,000 students and 25 more schools were added nationwide. Native American education became policy. In the instances of trying to assimilate the Native American men, which was mostly unsuccessful, and assimilating the Native children, which was mostly successful, the Native American men would be considered the “unassimilatable other” and the Native children the “assimilatable other” because it was proven that it was easier and more successful to teach children new ways than adults.

The “Indian problem” was seen not only by the white culture, but by Native Americans. The white man believed that Native Americans should assimilate into white culture and anything less was a disgrace. The Native Americans saw this belief and knew it was an immediate problem. The Native American community are a proud people and resist change to some degree, but they knew that change was going to happen, one way or another.

During American expansion, the white man moved the Native Americans out of their homes and onto reservations. These reservations were small pieces of land that an entire tribe was expected to inhabit. Aside from these small plots of land, there was no limit to the amount of land the European Americans could take. The Native American way of life was threatened even more when Pratt took the Native children to the school, with no intention of returning them to their families.

The children were expected to assimilate into the dominant white culture and never return to their Native American homes or ways. Pratt’s idea was to fully eliminate Native American culture and their reservations. The effects of Pratt’s schools are still seen today. Most Native Americans have assimilated into the dominant white culture. Most have a belief in Christianity, go to schools where they learn the same subjects as white students, and live in cities and towns, not on reservations.

However, Pratt did fail in one area: most Native Americans that have assimilated into white culture have not forgotten their Native American culture. They respect and remember that part of themselves and celebrate it much as German-Americans or Italian-Americans remember and celebrate their German or Italian heritages. Pratt did not break the spirit of the Native American. This fact is part of the fabric of America and has contributed to America being known as “The Melting Pot. ” – In the White Man’s Image. Dir. Christine Lesiak. PBS Production, 1991.

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