CONSERVATION OF THE INDIAN
IT IS doubtful if any race of people since time began ever passed through such a series of life-changing influences in three hundred years as has the North American Indian, who to-day stands at the threshold of yet another transformation.
Recent and exhaustive investigations have found that many of the Indians on reservations are habitually idle, distressingly poor, and consequently undernourished. Although the Indian population is steadily increasing in numbers more of them proportionately die from tuberculosis than do white people. Indian babies have twice the death rate of white babies. The trouble, say the experts, is "their lack of adjustment to the social and economic conditions of the prevailing civilization which confronts them." They do not earn enough of the white man's money properly to keep themselves going. The Indian must therefore be given money-earning work to do. He must be put to work at the white man's tasks. That will doubtless lead to his final transformation and assimilation.
When white men came to America these natives were scattered thinly over the continent. Many of them were nomads, living in temporary villages and changing their domiciles with the seasons. They ate little other than the fish and game they caught. Others were more settled and engaged to a considerable degree in agriculture. Their farming was a poor attempt when compared to that of the whites, but it contributed materially to their subsistence. The food produced from these two sources, hunting and farming, was so limited that it held down the numbers of the tribes. There were probably few more Indians in what is now the United States when Columbus came than there are to-day.
Early in the sixteenth century Cortez in Mexico and De Soto along the Mississippi released horses on a continent where they had not existed. These horses lived and multiplied until, a hundred and fifty years later, the plains Indian had become a man on horseback. This transformed him. His range was greatly increased. As a warrior his leash strings were cut. He fared afield with much greater scope than he had ever possessed before. As a mounted huntsman he could dash in among the buffalo of the prairie and drive his arrows to their vitals almost at will. The horse would have multiplied the numbers and importance of the Indians manyfold had it not been followed by the land-hungry race that bred it.
Although the whites crowded the reds to the West, there was little struggle for land while the stretch of a continent invited. But when the white man went into the West there was conflict. The mounted, free-roving Indians sometimes proved dangerous to pioneering parties. Often they were but buffalo hunters, but it was hard to tell buffalo hunters from scalp hunters. There was deliberateness in the white man's destruction of the prairie game. Its disappearance would remove the Indian's excuse for prowling abroad in armed groups. It would make him dependent on the white man and consequently more amenable to his will.
This is a generalization which, of course, does not apply to all the tribes. In the Southwest the Pueblo Indians were settled farmers and early came under the Spanish influence. Their history was quite different. Tribes in the South, again, lived quite differently, and many of them were moved by the Government to the so-called Indian Territory, there to work out a different destiny.
The Indian wars incidental to the conquest of the West combined with the passing of game led to the confinement of the Indian on the reservation. This was the beginning of his degradation. He might no longer fare afield and live by the hunt. He might no longer make war on the white man or rival tribes. He had to sit in idleness on the reservation and wait for his rations to be dealt out by the Government. It was a life which no race nor individual could endure without injury. As a result of it this Indian, who had wrested a livelihood from nature almost with his bare hands, who had survived only through the possession of activity and hardihood, became an idler without necessity for exertion. Thus he gained a reputation for racial laziness which he never deserved.
After two generations of rations a new sun arose over his horizon. It rose not naturally but artificially, through the well-meant efforts of white men. This was the sun of education. The theory was that learning would solve all the Indian's troubles. This proved not to be a fact. After two generations of education he is still on the reservation, miserable under the pall of idleness of the old ration days.
John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War under President Monroe, in 1824, created the first Bureau of Indian Affairs and appointed a certain Colonel McKinney as its chief. In the 107 years that have intervened the Indian has been under the supervision of the Government, and when the Department of the Interior was organized in 1849 the Indian Bureau was transferred to it. The idea of education for the Indian got its first impetus in 1876, when $20,000 was appropriated to further it. After that appropriations increased rapidly. In 1879 the Carlisle Indian School, the first of the nonreservation boarding schools, was established in Pennsylvania. It was presided over by an Army officer, Capt., later Gen., R. H. Pratt. His prescription for the solution of the Indian problem was: "The way to civilize the Indian is to put him in civilization." This was little more than a paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson's statement 75 years earlier that "the ultimate point of rest and happiness for the Indians is to let their settlements and ours meet and blend, to intermix and become one people." This has not been accomplished. The Indian still seems to lack adjustment to the prevailing civilization, and it is now found that this lack of adjustment is due to the fact that the prevailing civilization works and the Indian does not.
The task of administering the affairs of the Indian has proved one of the most troublesome of governmental undertakings. Contrary to general belief, the number of Indians is probably increasing, the high death rate among them being offset by a correspondingly high birth rate, which is 50 per cent above that of the whites. During the past 20 years Indians have increased on an average of 2,000 a year, until there are now some 355,000 in the United States. It is doubtful whether there were as many Indians even at the high tide of their power as mounted hunters.
Every Indian, at least until he is officially pronounced "competent," is a ward of the Government. He may not act for himself. These wards are divided into 193 tribes, speaking 58 languages, living on 200 reservations in 26 States, and owning lands as extensive as New England and New York combined. Oklahoma, with 120,000, has the greatest number of Indians. Arizona follows with 49,000, South Dakota with 23,000, New Mexico with 22,000, California with 19,000, Minnesota with 15,000, Montana with 13,000, Washington with 13,000, and so on. The natural tendency of an agency having charge of so intricate an administration is to become absorbed in its detail and to think but little of broad general policies.
The holdings of some of these Indians in the Government's care have become valuable. The 2,229 Osage Indians in Oklahoma for some time had individual incomes from oil of around $10,000 a year, now much less. Many of the Quapaws of the same State have waxed wealthy from lead and zinc mines. Certain Indians in the Middle West own valuable farm lands, while others in Washington and Oregon have excellent timber. The Navajos, in the Southwest, own a wild empire whose wealth is as yet unknown.
These facts may lead to the conclusion that the Indians are a wealthy people. This is not the case. Those who have property of value are in a small minority. The great mass of them live on poor reservations that can not be made to contribute much toward sustaining them. They are so poor that they seldom escape the pangs of hunger.
The administration of their estates is infinitely difficult and, no matter how able, can hardly fail to call forth unfavorable criticism. If an Indian who has money coming to him entirely lacks money experience, he may immediately be deprived of it by some unscrupulous person. Doling it out to him a little at a time may have the effect of taking all incentive from him, preventing him from ever becoming productive.
For two generations the Government has been concentrating on Indian education. There are to-day some 78,000 Indian children of school age. In such States as Oklahoma many of these go to public schools along with their white neighbors. Others on many reservations attend mission schools. The Government tries hard to reach every Indian child whose education is not otherwise provided for. It maintains 126 day schools and 58 boarding schools on reservations. Then there are the more widely advertised educational institutions of the service, the nonreservation boarding schools, 19 in number, conveniently located throughout the West and drawing on all the tribes for pupils. These institutions partake of the nature of well-organized trade schools. From a general educational standpoint their curricula run a bit beyond those of the high school. From 500 to 1,000 students attend each. The schools are usually beautifully located and surrounded by their own farms, which produce food for the students and provide demonstrations of farming and dairying.
The Indian child may enter a reservation boarding school at the age of 10, remain there five years, go to the nonreservation school, and emerge with some education at no expense to himself or his family. He is the only American for whom such free education and subsistence is provided. There is no questioning the quality of the education. It is without doubt better than that which is secured by the average child of white parents. It needs, though, to be better adjusted to his inherent abilities and future responsibilities. Elaborate care is taken to do all possible for the health of the Indians. The Indian Service spends more than $4,000,000 a year on Indian health. It maintains 99 hospitals, employs 323 doctors, 14 traveling dentists, and 359 trained nurses. Doctors who are specialists and surgeons who perform operations travel from place to place bringing the best of treatment to the Indians. Dentists travel from reservation to reservation, caring free of charge for the teeth of all school children and others who present themselves. Physicians with attending nurses are stationed at all the larger Indian reservations, and emergency attention is placed within reach of practically all Indians.
Charges made by the uninformed that the health of the Indian is being neglected are belied by the facts. It is doubtful if any other rural group of people in the world ever received so much governmentally provided medical service.
One of the principal difficulties in the way of bringing health to these Indians lies in the fact of their periodic undernourishment and their own personal or tribal attitudes toward disease. Undernourished bodies fall easy prey to such diseases as tuberculosis. Every attempt is made to provide ample medical care for the Indians, but the solution of their health problems lies in the removal of the cause, which is economic. The Indian must be put in the way of earning enough money adequately to nourish his family.
Undoubtedly the Government and the American people have wanted to do everything possible for the Indian. They have, however, made certain mistakes which they now freely admit. The greatest of these was rationing the Indian, because it plunged him into decades of enforced idleness. In its educational policy, furthermore, the Government started out with the idea that the logical calling of the Indian, a child of the open spaces, was farming. It devoted a generation to teaching him to farm, returning him to the reservation and expecting him to follow this occupation. Much to the chagrin of the service he steadfastly refused to make satisfactory use of his land.
The Indian's psychology stood in his way. In many of the tribes he has always been a nomad who accumulated nothing to burden him on moving day. His philosophy was to throw away rather than accumulate. He felt no land hunger. He has been a member of a band in which everything was held in common. He is a communist. There was no incentive to personal endeavor, to accumulation of any sort. If an Indian raised a crop of potatoes, the other members of the band would move in and eat them up. On the reservation the old philosophy still prevails. The old people dominate completely, and the youngsters can not run counter to their wishes.
Another reason why Indians fail as farmers is that farming is a complicated business. To make a success of it one must have technical knowledge, business ability, industry, foresight, the capacity to concentrate through the years on a single purpose. The Indians are a simple and undeveloped people. They should start learning to make a living in the simplest way there is to make itby working for hire, under direction, for somebody else. Thus they would get experience in the white man's ways of life before themselves assuming responsibility. There is ample experience on which to base the conclusion that the Indian is as fit material for industry as anybody else.
A careful study, made recently, revealed that he has a manual dexterity that is exceptional. He is fascinated by machinery and quick to learn its operation. He also takes readily to carpentry. He learns the manual trades as readily as the white boy. Those Indians who have learned to work in the building trades or shops have made good.
The Indian should be developed into a self-respecting American citizen. The Indian stock should merge with that of the Nation. Individually the Indian should be prepared for life among the rest of us. The Indian Bureau should work itself out of a job in 25 years.
Indian schools, which make up a far-flung organization, have had trouble keeping themselves up to date. They are equipped to teach blacksmithing and harness making instead of auto mechanics. It takes money and time to effect changes. The old spirit of coddling the Indian must be replaced by proper training and a constant pressure toward thrusting him out into the world on his own.
If the young Indian is to participate in the white man's civilization, he must know more about it. Indian schools are institutional schools and as such are admittedly poor places in which to bring up children. Young Indians have no contact whatever with the practicalities of life. They are clothed, fed, taught in complete isolation. When they emerge from these institutions they have little training for the battle for place, which is life. Too often they are plunged back on the reservations and return to the aboriginal.
The policy of the present administration is to press steadily to get more Indian children out of the institutionalized schools and into the public schools. As the whites have closed in upon the reservations, white schools have been made available to Indian children, until more than half the Indian children are to-day in public white schools. Here they mingle with white children and learn much from these contacts. They merge into the general population. Every Indian child who appears at a boarding school now is carefully investigated; and if it is found that he lives within reach of a public school, and other circumstances permit, he is sent back home and required to attend it. Special representatives of the Indian Service have been going about the country arranging for the Indian children to enter public schools, hastening the abandonment of the institutional schools. The idea is being considered of establishing them in Government village boarding houses, paying fees to the local communities and allowing them to attend public school. Thus contact with the whites is increased and the Indian child is being constantly exposed to the civilization in which his future is bound to lie.
The Indian Bureau is building up a service to guide and place young Indians after graduation from the school. As a result many of them are being fitted into the industrial life and are finding themselves able to hold their own. Nevertheless, thousands of young Indians are constantly being thrust back into the Stone Age life of the reservation and forced to submit to it. This is particularly hard on the Indian girls who, after 10 years in the boarding schools, where they slept between sheets, bathed, ate proper food, and learned the white man's standards of morality, find themselves driven back to the reservations to go barefoot, sleep on the ground, eat out of the common pot, and, perhaps, be disposed of for a price like any other chattel.
Even the older Indians on the reservation, the bureau holds, may be provided with money-earning possibilities. An enterprising superintendent at San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, for example, secured a truck that would transport 30 men. He went forth wherever within a hundred miles there was construction work, farming, mining, whatnot, and got employment for his idle Indians. At first they worked but a few days and returned to the reservation. The superintendent persisted. As time passed, however, they stayed with their jobs for longer and longer periods. In a few years these primitive Apaches were bringing $300,000 a year back to their reservation. Now scores of families live in their own homes as do other working people and ignore the old, idle life of the reservation.
Two of the most tragic of the reservations are those of Pine Ridge in South Dakota and the Papago in Arizona. Both these reservations are very isolated; both are in areas where farming is next to impossible. On neither is it possible for these Government wards to live other than miserably. The Indians themselves do not appreciate the possibility of a better life beyond the horizon that rims them about. Their contacts with civilization are so slight that they have not learned to venture of their own initiative into the great world outside. It is not easy to induce them to do so. If the man power of the Indian is to be conserved, however, if he is to be allowed to make his maximum racial contribution to the Nation, if he is to become an asset rather than a liability, he must be led into self-support and economic independence. On a few reservations, as, for example, that of the Navajos, this may be accomplished in his native habitat, and the Indian may continue to live for generations much as his fathers have lived. But throughout the service his greatest opportunity lies in his adaptation to conditions that exist among his white fellows and ability properly to maintain himself under those conditions. His property rights must be carefully guarded, but above all else he must be led to a self-acquired economic independence.
Encouragement of native arts and crafts is to be a prominent feature of the educational and industrial program for the American Indian, according to plans now being worked out at the Indian Office. Instead of rejecting Indian art and substituting other training, the Indian-school authorities are being urged to recognize the Indian contribution as a significant one for western civilization.
Special native teachers of Indian arts and crafts are being employed, particularly in and around Santa Fe, N. Mex., which is a center of interest in Indian culture. The Santa Fe Indian Boarding School has already been giving work in native arts, and through the cooperation of the Eastern Association on Indian Affairs it is hoped in the next year to set up additional teachers with an arts shop to which Indian pupils may go for work in the arts of their own people. A day school in the Pueblo country, for example, has the services of one of the best native pottery makers of the Southwest, who is engaged in teaching Indian children the methods of her craft.
Home-economics departments throughout the Indian Service are using Indian designs in an effort to preserve the art and protect the original simplicity and effectiveness from modern corruptions that have crept in on many of the reservations. All the Navajo boarding schools now have native weavers who teach blanket weaving to the girls. Pottery is taught at Albuquerque and Santa Fe and in the Maricopa and Hopi schools as well as the Pueblo day schools. At the University of New Mexico university officials have aided in the selection and training of Indian boys and girls for special work in art.
Applications of Indian art in home economics and industrial courses at the boarding schools include Indian designs on curtains, linen cloth, and napkins; embroidery on girls' dresses; table mats of tiling beads; beadwork for hatbands, headbands, and necklaces; weaving of plaques; Indian dolls; and designs on chairs made by Indian boys.
Perhaps of most importance for its far-reaching effect is the use by teachers in the primary grades of Indian art as part of the regular work of the school. Under former conditions, not only with Indian children, but nearly everywhere in the world, native children were obliged to give up their own experiences and make use of artificial skills from another civilization having little relation to their needs and opportunities. At the present time, however, one will find the children in Indian schools making their own reading books, descriptive of their daily lives as Indians, and illustrating with artistic picturing of their houses, their basketry, their pottery, their ceremonials. Children in the elementary grades are making baskets, using original Indian designs on clay pottery, or reproducing sand paintings and framing them.
Experts in art and archaeology have offered their services in developing a program based on Indian arts and crafts, and it is believed that there is an opportunity to preserve much of what otherwise would have been lost of the Indian's contribution. Thus is it intended that whatever there is in Indian arts and crafts that is worthy to survive shall be conserved.
The Indian Service recently has been reorganized into five field divisions: Health, education, agricultural extension and industry, forestry, and irrigation, each with a technical or professional director at its head. This new staff of experts now has direct executive and administrative powers over the respective field services. These divisions are grouped under two assistants to the commissioner whose spheres are defined as "Human Relations" and "Property."
Coordination and cooperation is the keynote of the new system. For instance, the new assistant to the commissioner on human relations will be directly responsible to the commissioner for the coordination of the divisions of health, education, and agricultural extension and industry. His office will serve as the coordinating center for all reports and correspondence affecting the human program of the Indian Office. He will be responsible for the cooperation of the thee divisions and will call frequent conferences between the directors and their assistants.
The assistant to the commissioner on property will be directly responsible for all activities dealing with the guardianship of Indian property, tribal and individual; land irrigation; and forestry. He will keep all the activities of his group in harmony with the plans and projects of the branches of the Indian Service which affect the human side. The responsibility of the Government for the conservation of the property of the Indian is great, and the detail of administering that property is infinite. The task is taken with great seriousness. It is determined that Indian property must be conserved until the last ward is declared competent.
The Indian Service, with its far-flung organization, with its 200 reservations, its 170 schools, its 99 hospitals, its administration of the estates of tens of thousands of wards with property, is one of the most complicated tasks of government. It is a task that has gone on for a long time but one which has now arrived at a point where it should be liquidated. Most of the reservations are being overwhelmed by the number of whites that crowd in upon them. Most of the members of the Indian groups are coming more and more to live the lives of the dominant civilization. It is coming to be obvious that history is repeating itself and that these fragments of a race placed among other peoples of vastly greater numbers are meeting the inevitable fate of such groups and are being overwhelmed. There are a few reservations, such as that of the Navajos, numerous tribes in isolated areas, that will yet remain as peoples apart for generations. But the mass of the Indians living in such States as Oklahoma, intimately mingling with the newcomers, are changing as rapidly as do the racial groups that come from Italy or Russia. In another generation their problems will be little different from those of the average citizen. Thus it comes to pass that the obvious thing to do is to prepare for the inevitable. Though there may be certain sentimental regrets at his passing, the Indian must be prepared for his dip into that melting pot which is the parent of us all.
Last Updated: 20-Jul-2009