Anishinaabe Students at Carlisle Indian School Use Official Publications to Preserve and Celebrate Native Culture
The Carlisle Indian School, notorious for its mission to “Kill the Indian and save the man,” witnessed an unexpected rebellion within its own publications. Julie Morrow’s research focuses on the writings of Anishinaabe students from the Great Lakes and Plains regions between 1904 and 1918. Despite the school’s intention to erase Native culture, these students found a platform to showcase their traditions and resilience in the school’s official publications.
Preserving Native Culture in the Face of Cultural Genocide
During the early 20th century, as the “closing of the frontier” sparked a nostalgic fascination with Native American culture among white Americans, the Carlisle publications aimed to satisfy this curiosity. Moses Friedman, the superintendent from 1908, encouraged students to write about Native American legends, customs, and history as a means of “preserving” cultures that were believed to be on the brink of extinction. However, Morrow reveals that the Anishinaabe students used this opportunity to highlight how they were actively preserving and evolving their own cultures.
Challenging Stereotypes of Indian Work Ethic
The Carlisle School’s curriculum focused on training students to become “civilized” workers, dismissing traditional Indian ways of working as lazy. Yet, in the Indian culture pages of the publications, students defied these stereotypes. For instance, Estelle Bradley, in her retelling of an Anishinaabe trickster myth, took the opportunity to describe the intricate process of making rope from the inner bark of a basswood tree. These details showcased the admiration for native women’s work, which was often disparaged by Carlisle and mainstream society.
Reclaiming Stolen Land through Narrative
Margaret Blackwood, a 19-year-old student, used the familiar form of an origin story to recount the theft of her tribe’s land and the renaming of her family’s hometown, Ontonagon, Michigan. Instead of presenting the tale in a mythic past, Blackwood anchored it in living memory, around 1842. By intertwining history and personal narrative, she challenged the erasure of Native land and the ongoing impact of colonization.
Celebrating Indigenous Joy and Connection to Nature
Edward Bracklin, in an essay about Christmas, contrasted the materialistic focus of white children with the joy experienced by the “Indian boy” spending the holiday in the plains and forests that had always been sources of enjoyment. Bracklin reminisced about the freedom and connection to nature that he and other students had prior to their enrollment at Carlisle. Through his words, Bracklin emphasized the importance of preserving the spiritual and natural connection that defined their Indigenous identities.
Anishinaabe Students as Agents of Adaptation
Morrow concludes that the writings of Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School showcased their adaptability and pride in their native knowledge and cross-cultural identities. These students used the platform provided by the school’s publications to challenge stereotypes, preserve their traditions, and assert their agency in the face of cultural genocide.
The writings of Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School offer a unique perspective on the resilience and resistance of Native Americans during a time of cultural erasure. Through their narratives, these students subverted the school’s mission and celebrated their cultural heritage. Their stories serve as a testament to the power of storytelling in reclaiming and preserving Indigenous identities.