If it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, Gina Sampaio would never have known about the federal government’s Indian boarding school system, which removed children from family and community and placed them in schools to “assimilate” .
A New Jersey-based writer and artist, in 2019 Sampio took the job as curator of the small Lebanon Township Museum, located in an early 1800s schoolhouse in New Hampton, New Jersey. She was only at her new job for a year when the coronavirus pandemic forced her to close the museum’s doors to the public for almost a year and a half.
This was the perfect opportunity to start exploring some of the thousands of records and artifacts in the museum’s collection.
“I found these notes, handwritten on yellow legal paper,” she said. “I had seen them a million times before. But for some reason, this time I decided to take a closer look.”
She found references to “Indian boys” working and going to school in New Hampton.
“The note that opened it all to me was the talk about the Indian boys at Carlisle School, which I had never heard of before,” she said.
A Google search landed them in the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center, a Dickenson College comprehensive database of Carlisle Indian School photographs and documents that have been housed in the US National Archives for decades.
There, she learned that between 1892 and 1918, dozens of Carlisle’s students, some as young as 12, were forced to live and work on white-owned New Hampton farms as part of an “outing program” from a neighboring state school. was sent to work. of Pennsylvania.
“And I’m looking at all this and wondering, why at my age I’ve never heard of Indian residential schools or students coming here to work?” he said. “And I’m still very angry about it. Why weren’t we taught this in school?”
While supervising Native American war prisoners in St. Augustine, Florida in the 1800s, former US cavalry officer Richard Henry Pratt encouraged the prisoners to have regular interactions with locals and tourists.
In his memoir “Battlefield to Classroom”, Pratt spoke of the desire for better race relations: “I consider it my supreme duty to promote unjustified prejudice among our people through racial hatred and false history against Indians. Go who speaks our side and not those people.”
He also wrote that “Equally important was to remove from the minds of the Indians their false notion that among our frontier outlaws the greedy and vicious represented the white race.”
In April 1878, he took a group of about two dozen of the now freed prisoners to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Virginia, a school established to educate former slaves. This was when he began to put forth the idea of placing native students in non-native homes “to acquire practical knowledge for managing their own farms”.
When Pratt opened the first federal industrial Indian school in Carlisle, he formalized the outing system, which he dubbed “Supreme Americanist”.
Pratt planned to keep them on farms or homes where they could work and earn money over the summer and, in some cases, throughout the school year, attending public schools in their patron areas.
“It brings the Indian youth directly into contact with the good, healthy, civilized life, and they absorb it rapidly, and it absorbs them, and they become part of it,” he wrote in 1895 to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. claimed in a letter to Washington.
In his memoir, Pratt acknowledged that the first outing was a disaster: half of the 23 students placed on local farms fled or were sent back by host families. Therefore, Pratt arranged for them to be sent to New Jersey and Maryland.
The program grew over the years. In 1885 alone, Pratt put 250 students on excursions, about half of them year-round, on farms and in homes. Over time, they started contracting students to plants and factories.
Students were allowed to keep a part of their earnings to be spent on necessities; The school kept the remainder until his graduation. Pratt withheld the earnings of the fledgling students. The records contain several letters from students complaining that they never got their money.
The government and the public were impressed by Pratt’s model, and three months after Carlisle opened, a second off-reservation boarding school was opened in Forest Grove, Oregon, which later moved to the town of Chemawwa.
By 1908, 27 such schools had come to the West, where new technologies had turned farming into big business. Schools such as the Taylor Indian School in Grand Junction, Colorado, began sending students to work on large farms and gardens.
“It became a supervised educational program run by the school or a tool to cover the use of Indian students as seasonal labor … is difficult to determine from official reports,” said retired Colorado Mesa University historian Don McCendrick in 1993. was written in
K. Tsianina Lomawaima (untitled Muscogee), a retired professor of Native American studies and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education, has written extensively on Indian boarding schools.
“Taylor would, for example, send working gangs of young men to work in the large sugar beet fields,” she said. “They won’t live in farmers’ homes. They’ll be kept in bunkhouses — or worse.”
Taylor students earned thousands of dollars a year, but an inspection in 1890 revealed that the school superintendent was taking money out of the school for personal use. The money – and the ledger – had disappeared.
Girls in urban boarding schools, such as the Sherman Institute in California or the Phoenix School in New Mexico, were referred to as domestic.
Historian Diana Meyers Bahr in her book “The Students of Sherman Indian School” cites the case of a student who reported leaving an outing job because the man of the house looked at her through her bedroom keyhole.
In 1914, 10 years after Pratt was forced to resign from Carlisle, the outing system had gone haywire. Allegations of financial mismanagement and neglect were leveled by students and teachers against the school’s third superintendent, Moses Friedman. The Indian Bureau sent an inspector to Carlisle, and their findings resulted in a joint congressional hearing at the school.
“The idea of outing, as originated by Gen. [sic] Pret … had to keep them not as servants but as assistants, which they did,” Rosa B. La Flesch, the girls’ outing manager, told lawmakers. “That principle is lost.”
She said that students no longer received vocational training at the school and Friedman pressured her to “send out” as many students as possible so that “the income from that source would be higher.”
“Farmers … bring boys and girls to work for whatever they can get from them,” she said.
Students were paid but MPs were told that they no longer had bank books or interest statements and had no way of knowing how much money they had saved.
Friedman was forced to resign, and the school closed forever in 1918.
Through his research in Carlisle Digital Research Files, Lebanon Township Museum curator Sampaio learned that at least 34 Carlisle students lived, worked and studied in New Hampton. Charles Pasano, a student at Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, has died at the age of 20.
Sampaio and colleague Robby-Lynn Mwangi organized an online presentation, “The Invisible Sons Project,” to help educate the public about the Indian boarding school system and the children who are part of it.
“Then the New Jersey Historical Commission announced this year’s convention on November 12 and 13 would be about Indigenous history in the state, so we’ll present there,” she said.
On “Orange Shirt Day”, September 30, the day Canada admits residential school students, Sampaio held the first of several classroom presentations on the Indian boarding school experience.
“I’m worried I didn’t make a good impression,” she said. “But later, I found out they talked about it for the rest of the day.”
pay attention: In the third article in this series, the VOA will explore what caused the deaths of so many boarding school students and whether a full accounting would be possible.