This week in Social Studies we’ve been learning about government policies in the second half of the 19th century that deprived Native Americans of their land and culture. Students first read a commonly used textbook – Washington: A State of Contrasts – that says this about why it happened:
“By the start of the 20th century, tribes around the country were forced onto reservations. They were taught the white man’s way of life. The Native Americans lost control of their land. Their way of life was lost due to the expansion of a country.”
In thinking about this line, students commented that the fault (according to this account) seems to lie in either the Native Americans themselves (who “lost control” of their land) or to some amorphous “country” that simply absorbed land in its path. To learn more about what actually took place, they then learned about 2 critically important congressional acts: the Donation Land Act (1850) and the Dawes Act (1887). The policies contained in these acts led to the reservation system, boarding schools and the transfer of any un-used land in the west to white settlers.
Students looked at ten commonly held myths about Native Americans and learned the facts that disprove each myth. We watched a documentary clip (PBS: Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools) and listened to a podcast from the NPR series Scene on Radio (Little War on the Prairie). Finally, we read primary accounts and examined photos from boarding schools in the Library of Congress collection.
Students next week will be using all of these sources to write their own chapter summaries to correct the record! The assignment:Setting the Textbook Straight on Indian Policy
What surprised them the most about what they’ve learned?
- That it didn’t surprise me at all!
- That people in charge admitted that education in mission schools was not a priority.
- That someone took the time to condemn Indian schools in a government report.
- That of the people who called themselves “educators” in mission schools, only 1/10 said the primary mission of the schools was academic.
Be sure to ask questions of the historian/activist in your house!