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Some Facts and Figures
on Indian Education

c.Oct 12-14, 1911 — Inaugural Conference, Society of American Indians, Ohio State University, Columbus OH


The word education has several meanings to our race, and at the start I wish to clear up in our minds a common misunderstanding of the term. To some of our Indians at home, going away to a government school means an education from which we may expect anything and everything. To some others, anything the Caucasian does is “educated” and anything “Indian” is not. To those who have gone the whole way of enlightenment, education has another meaning. With them, there is a proper appreciation of the real values of truth wherever they may be found, whether in an Indian or Paleface.

These varying states of mind among us with regard to the on coming change in our racial life has a very decided effect upon our attainment of education. One’s attitude toward a thing is governed by the degree of light he has upon the subject, and, one’s attainment of education is but the reflection of his understanding of what really constitutes and, since our ideals spring from these, seems to me the duty of this Congress of the race to put out the watchwords and to define our ideals and standards.

I have never forgotten the figure for education an Old Nez Perce Chief gave at one Carlisle Commencement. He said, When I was a boy the old chiefs used to say, as soon as you can climb high mountain, the highest you can find, do not stop halfway and look back. Climb till you reach the top. There you can breath deep and look into all the valleys. Then you can say, “I have seen.

There are old Indians who have never seen the inside of a class room whom I consider far more educated than the young Indian with his knowledge of Latin and Algebra. There is something behind the superb dignity and composure of the old bringing up; there is something in the discipline of the Red Man which has given him a place in the literature and art of this country, there to remain separate and distinct in his proud active bearing against all time, all change.

When Tecumseh was called to Vincennes, and intrigue and defeat were staring him in the face, in the open council, an aide to General Harrison called him to the General’s side by saying, “Your white father wishes you to sit beside him.” Tecumseh answered, “My father? The sun is my father, the earth is my mother, upon her bosom I will recline,” and seated himself with the ease of one who dares to be himself. How different in tone is the expression we too often hear from the government school Indian as an excuse for anything he has done poorly: Well, I am only an Indian ! I have no patience with this last expression. It isn’t characteristic of our ancient pride, it isn’t ours. It is born in the Indian service, it smatters of the Indian Bureau and mediocre custodian care. How different is the spirit of the Indian boy in the public school who was asked by his fellows how he happened to beat Sammy Jones to the conduct prize, and he replied, that much I got ahead of Sammy.”

Under the philosophy of pantheism which the American native lived, there was a great regard for natural law. I for one am not certain that the discipline under it is not to be respected just as much as that under the artificial.

It has not been appreciated that the leisure in which the American Indian lived, was conducive to much thought, and that the agitations and the dangers of the wilderness gave him a life rich in emotions. These combined with his unobscured first principles and the stringent discipline to a high standard of character, really gave him an aesthetic education. His choice, when it is native, and not borrowed, is fine; always the artistic thing in preference to the un attractive practical. He loved the beautiful because he had an educated sense of things.

Culture is but the fine flowering of real education, and it is the training of the feeling, the tastes and the manners that make it so. When we stop to think a little, old Indian training is not to be despised. The general tendency in the average Indian schools is to take away the child’s set of Indian notions altogether, and to supplant them with the paleface’s. There is no discrimination in that. Why should he not justly know his race’s own heroes rather than through false teaching think them wrong? Have they not as much claim to valor as Hercules or Achilles? Now I do not say here that everything he has natively is right or better than the Caucasian’s. Not at all, but I do say that there are noble qualities and traits and a set of literary traditions he had which are just as fine and finer, and when he has these, or the sake of keeping a fine spirit of self-respect and pride in himself, let us preserve them.

One of the greatest thinkers in this country, [Simon] Patten, of the University of Pennsylvania, says of race heredity, in connection with labor an poverty: Children robbed of the treasures of their race-heredity by child labor, or by the poverty of their parents, show qualities in adult life which are only the defaced remains of what generous human nature implanted within them and would have developed under favorable circumstances.” I want to add to labor and poverty this other determination of the Indian service to kill the Indian into an ordinary paleface. 

We want education, yes, we want to know all the educated Caucasian knows but we want our self-respect while we are getting his knowledge. In short, let us discriminate between the goods and bads of civilization and the goods and bads of his own heritage; weed out as many of the bads as we can and send him along the way a finer type of citizen than if we turned him into a very average ‘White man’ just to have him “white” in culture. This is what I mean by recognizing the real values of truth whether they are to be found in paleface or the Indian.

We live in a country that is young and gloriously admirable in many ways. But the growing heterogeneity of population makes polite culture less appreciated by the masses than it was even in revolutionary days. And where wealth is the ruling power and intellectual attainments secondary, we must watch out as a people that we do not act altogether upon the dictates of a people who have not given sufficient time and thought to our own peculiar problems, and we must cease to be dependent on their estimates of our position.

We meet with a characteristic attitude of the Indian service people in the person of the ex-supervisor of Indian schools. You will recall that several years ago the Press gave out as her view that the education of the Indian should be limited to the industries as contained in her own prescribed course of study.

Even an ex-commissioner’s daughter exclaimed, on finding our selves together in the New York School of Philanthropy, “Why should you be way out here studying the white man’s problems. The thing for you to do is to go and get a job in the Indian services, while my father is commissioner.”

These hopeless errors in the average mind are not inconsequential to us as a race though they can only be that to us as individuals. The hot-beds of these ideas are in the Indian schools and on the reservations. We have allowed the country to discriminate against  us in the segregation of the Indian from the rest of the population. We have allowed ourselves to be cooped up for thirty-five years away from the same advantages the rest of the country is getting, and if we will sit down and take anything from the superintendent of a frontier Indian school who was promoted by political pull from the calling of shoeing horses, we may as well make up our minds we deserve it.

Until we ourselves, together in just such conferences as this, put our ideal upon the summit of the mountain, and let it shine out to us as the beacon by which we shall be guided, until we settle it that the only resting point in our search for the truth is the unit, or universal truth, however obtained, until we confirm by repeated examples the verdict of those who have tried to do us justice, we can not emancipate ourselves from our own ignorance and the false notions of the paleface concerning us.

I want to quote a Frenchman who made an unbiased study of American life in 1831. The Gallic mind is always refreshing in its openness. He said: “The Indian in the little they have done have unquestionably displayed as much natural genius as the people of Europe in their most important designs, but nations as well as men require time to learn, whatever may be their intelligence and zeal.”

Dr. Franz Boas of Columbia University, the greatest anthropologist in America, claims that so far as his investigations have gone, there is no difference between the brain of a Caucasian and that of an Indian, in actual weight and gray matter.

Besides the research of science, however, we have evidence of the power of abstraction in the Indian mind. History in its true representation gives us credit for generals and statesmen and sages and scholars in such personages as Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Tecumseh, Brant, Sequoia, Logan, and that Indian and statesman once mentioned as a nominee for President of the United States and so many others we have not space for them. The Caucasian dis covered these men and since their time, since we have been subjected, there have been others like him, who for want of opportunity have died obscure.

Old Indian oratory is noted for profound thought, literary merit and logic. I cannot help quoting here another Nez Percè, who was approached by an inspector with the proverbial proposal for removal. After listening patiently for some time he replied. He took a stick and described two circles on the ground of equal size. Pointing to one he said, “Through this the white man sees the world.  Through this other, the Indian says good bye.” It made me start when a Columbia professor used the same illustration in warning us as anthropologists in the field against insisting our own point of view into our investigations.

No, the Indian mind was not stolid and senseless, without penetration, just as it was not without humor. When Carl Schurz was Commissioner, a band of Crows came down to see him in Washingtton, one autumn. On meeting them he exclaimed, I suppose that the Crows had to move South, now that the winter is coming on.” “Yes, they have come South” said their leader “to get their shirts on.”

But now what has our red brother actually accomplished with a systematic educational system twenty-five years old? Dismissing the question of his capabilities, what has he actually done, and what has been done for him? What have been his opportunities ?

There are altogether 357 government schools; 70 of these reservation boarding schools, 35 non-reservation boarding schools, and 223 day schools. The enrollment in these schools totals 24,500 children. Besides these there are 4,300 children in the mission schools and 11,000 in the public. Of the 11,000, the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma have 6,900. The number of children of the race in school in the country then is 39,800. The last report shows an increase of nearly 2,000 [in] attendance over the year before. Yet, there are still 9,000 children without school facilities!

The statistics compiled by Carlisle of what her graduates have done with themselves, are the best reports of the actual accom plishment in Indian education. I should like to hear more extensively from some of the graduates in this audience what those accomplishments are.

According to the usual method of averages used elsewhere, we should have about 54,000 Indian families. Allowing an average of three children to the family, we would have 162,000 of the young. Discounting the ineligibles, we should have at least 54,000 children of school age. The number accounted for in school and out of school is only 48,000 however, so that we have lost at the lowest estimate 5,200 children somewhere.

In 1906 I learned, through the President of the Indian Rights Association, that in Northern California there were 20,000 Indians in that state without any homes. Those, of course, would have children who were not in school or on any records, save their own foot prints on the mountain sands of the land which they once owned alone. They camp about the mountains till the season of fruit picking returns. I made a special effort to get these into Sherman Institute some years ago. They were speaking fluent English, Spanish and Indian and were shrewder than other Indians who had not had contact with other people. But no people have very many children where the living conditions are hard and the staple food in the winter months is Mexican beans.

I am inclined to think that there are more children on some reservations who are not accounted for through some defect in statistics. I noticed this in the thirty-eight reports from the various Agents and Superintendents on reservations that they seemed to tell haphazardly whatever came into their minds, some telling more than others, and some not giving much of anything beyond the attendance and the outlook. In 1906 I heard that there were three college-bred men who were Superintendents in the over i00 boarding schools, but I know that it has been the special effort of our Commissioner to improve the personnel of Indian schools. In many instances, however, such a thing is beyond any hope. This is characteristic of institutionalism. Wherever there are boarding schools, and the inmates lead restricted lives and are pinned too closely to the montony of daily routine, besides being underpaid, we can not expect to find the most progressive there, as a general rule. I have noticed that, in some schools, Indian employees are made most unhappy through the petty jealousies of some of the inferior white employees. Again, there are times when children are made to suffer for the animosities between Indian school em ployees. I mention this here not because it affects you and me so much as that if we are to be a protecting organization, this is one of the things that should command our attention.

The salaries of people employed in the service are entirely too small to insure us efficiency throughout the system. I do not mean to pass over the superiority of some of those who are employed in the Indian Service. One cannot help appreciating the noble service of some few earnest souls who are there through their sincere heart interest in the race and who are efficient enough to be acceptable anywhere else. We all know them and appreciate them, but they are sadly in the minority.

There are phases in the Indian Schools which have their merits; for instance: One idea which has been installed in some larger school like that at Tulalip, Oregon, recently, which can be full of fruit, is the organization of what is called school cities.” The students are organized into a minature commonwealth and they themselves discharge the duties and activities of it. This is on the idea of the George Junior Republic for the city boys which is proving to be the making of some of the most efficient and high-minded citizens. Wherever the government turns over a boarding school to the state, as it has done in Utah and Colorado, these school cities ought to accompany the building.

Another phase of the non-reserve boarding school which is highly commendable of course, the outing system. But, when you stop to think of isn’t its contact with the outside world which makes it so useful?

The effective work the large institutions, like Carlisle and Haskell, have done is so marked that the evils of the System are almost lost in them. It lies in the fact that their heads have been personalities which are out of the general category of Indian Schools. This just happens, though, because these men carry the system, rather than having the system carry them.

As for industrial training, this splendid, of course, but the public schools are adding manual training and rudimentary agriculture now.

The Commissioner, in his report, throws out suggestion that more could be accomplished with larger appropriation. We are much indebted to the Indian Rights people for their efforts to influence legislation in this matter in the past. This also suggests where one of the greatest services of this organization can be.

In the thirty-five years of Indian Education the growth of appropriations has been as follows: 1877, $20,000; 1887, $1,211- 415,897, $2,517,265;1912, $3,757,496. But the year i908 was the highest when the appropriation ran over the $4,000,000 mark. It has cost the government and the Indian to maintain these schools for the thirty-five years, just $74,723,375. This looks enormous. “I can hear the paleface say and what has the Indian done with it?

I want to ask that question of the government. What has done with that $74,000,000?

I am going to take its own records. take the state of Montana because has good number of schools and because its boarding schools are not exceptional size or equipment. The actual cost of its five boarding schools, in site and buildings, sewage, light, heat in one school, and water system in another, $200,000. The furnishing, improvements and equipment to the point of running  order is $300,000 additional, making an exact half million. For the twelve day schools, the same item of expense is about $60,000, making its expenditure thus far for both classes of schools, $560,000. The number of children of school age in the state is 13,759. The per capita expense up to opening school is $148. Remember, that the teachers and the farmer, the cook, the disciplinarian, the laundries, the engineer, the clerks, the Superintendent and his wife, the matrons of the dormitories, the nurse and the doctor and their various assistants have not been paid yet. When these are paid the expense per capita will mount the $300 mark.

Their courses of instruction do not go beyond the grammar grades. In other words, they finish a public school course when they graduate.

In Oklahoma, the cost of educating a child in the public schools is twelve and one-half cents for each day of actual attendance. There are, as day schools go, about forty weeks of school in the year, making thus 200 school days yearly. This makes the tuition of each child $25, for the year. It should take the average child eight years to get through the public schools so that the cost of a public school career is just $200.

It of course, obvious that, were Indian children put into the public schools, most of them would require more expenditure than that for carriage fare to and from home which would have to be provided for in some systematic way because of distance and bad weather. There are those whose clothes would have to be looked after, but for the majority, $300 per year would be more than ample to place them in the best schools in the country. Now, as Indian education stands, the difference between and the public school the difference between $25 per year for the white child and $300 year for the Indian.

And what are we getting for it? In the boarding school every child is detailed to work half a day, so that the Indian child is getting a half year where the white child is getting a full year.

This phase of the Indian school has not received enough attention from this viewpoint, because the idea has been that the work clone by these children an industrial education. The difficulty lies here. Some of this true, but the work in an institution of several hundred degrades into onerous tasks rather than more practical lessons. The number of children who are working who are incipient cases of consumption large, because these are hard to detect until they come down in the last stage.

Another objectionable feature of the boarding school is this matter of health. Where there are several hundred [students] together and a large percentage of them are afflicted with trachoma and tuberculosis the means for their segregation is not sufficient, the well children are open to these dangers. Think of the danger of trachoma. No immigrant can land in New York who has trachoma, but here we are exposing the youth of the race to an incurable disease. If this were done by one individual to another, it would be a penitentiary offense. I hear someone defending the Bureau. Go to the Indian schools and say to the nurses and the doctors that they shall not lose their positions if they will tell you the truth about the conditions of the schools and we would soon enough find that the hospital equipment in the Indian service is nowhere near adequate to the demand. No one is working at greater disadvantage than this class in the service.

The white child comes from a well-established economic environment. That is, he has a home where the one idea in the community is to overcome deficits of material well-being. This child is continually asking of his parents to find a better means of support and accumulation. It calls for a continual effort toward improvement. The community life is organized; it produces and has markets, and money is in circulation in it as a natural result. Its social life is limited, by necessity, to recreation. It has personal liberties so long as it stays within a prescribed course of public law.

The Indian child’s environment is the reservation, a world of deficits. The group has really custodian care. There is no real personal liberty in wardship; there is no incentive in the community for any special effort; there is no reward for doing the right thing; the social life is not organized. A group of Indians may dance a whole week without impairing their personal estates. There are no markets of their own making and their own responsibility. There is no money continually in circulation. As Marvin Jack, in his paper last year said, when money enters the reservation, it loses its elasticity. When rations and annuities come, they come like spasms. There is nothing being learned by the adult population from necessity. What they do, they do through their own sense of natural acumen or decency. The great wonder is not that at they accomplish so little, but that they are not all outlaws. 

The educative influences are centered in the agency or the schools, and what is the personnel of these institutions? They should be filled with well-paid, efficient social service workers. Instead, they too often need social service themselves. Originally the positions were filled by people who had political pull, just as there is still a lot of graft in spite of the Civil Service Reform, and in spite of a most efficient and sincere Commissioner and Supervisor of Indian Education, for both these men have large training and experience behind them. But here is a system; what are a few people to do with a large system; with a Bureau which is the most corrupt branch of the whole United States government?

What can we expect when we have such instances as this : A woman entered the service when she was fourteen and is now principal in one of the government schools. I should like to see a principal in the state public schools with no more preparation than that. Can the blind lead the blind? It isn’t logical.

Is this $300 per capita for Indian education actually worth that to the race, the government or the child? If a child can go to the public schools in one of the most progressive states in the Union for $25 a year, the Indian child as he stands not getting the same education half a year, must have at the most $10 worth of education.

I should like to be optimistic for the system, but this looks ridiculous to me; so apparent is the graft in Indian education that the one watchword I should like to emphasize on you all, more than any other, is that this body should not go out of here without some organization for independent research. We can not ask for and push legislation without the figures in our hands as to our real status.

It were far better if the children of the race were sent to sur rounding public schools for a whole day. Suppose they had to have a delivery wagon to gather them up and take them home at night just the way that rural mail is delivered. Let these little fellows learn to fight their way side by side with the rest of the citizens of the country when they are young and daring. Let there be a lunch arranged for them for the noonday meal, and if their parents do not furnish them the clothes, they will demand it of them when they see other children’s good clothes, and in reality they will by such indirect influences as this teach the community to move along with them.

Discrimination against the race in educational advantages because it is a convenient graft seems to be a general system in Indian education. The money spent in it is not going directly to the child’s benefit, but it feeds a big machine which is not as efficient as the same grade of education in the country, at a fraction of the cost. For, at the rate of $300 a head for 6 years, there is an expenditure of $1,800, against $150.

The situation is simply this: We have both wealth and ignorance in abundance and we are the “easiest marks” for exploitation as a class that this country knows and, just as long as we ourselves can’t help this, we need not expect any change. There are too many people interested in the perpetuation of the Bureau to insure us a change until we demand it, and the program wish to suggest for this Society is this

1. A thorough investigation be made and our own statistics put on public record, together with comparison of the conditions of general education in this country.

2. That we demand special appropriation be set aside for higher education in colleges and universities and that, with this money, scholarships be given as rewards of merit to deserving students. These scholarships to cover tuition, board and clothing and necessary expenses to secure the student against embarrassment and the feeling of insecurity.

3. That we present a program to the Bureau, changing Indian schools into public schools wherever feasible.

4. That certain boarding schools in favorable climates be turned into sanitoria for the children who are infected.

5. That a campaign fund be provided to carry out this program by appropriation or by subscription from individual tribes.

In conclusion I wish to be understood that this paper only an aggravation to me. The amount of investigation have done merely suggests what field of surprises lies waiting for the Committee on Education, and for this Society.

Moreover, I have not space here to mention many other details which are of great moment for the future of the race. appreciate the people in this system who, in all sincerity, are struggling against its odds and appreciate the laborious and scientific work Commissioner Valentine has done to improve these conditions. In short, I wish to be understood that am wholly impersonal in my criticism of the system.

Our future is in the hands of the educational system of today. Those of us who have come thus far know how our youth have longed reach the summit of the mountain. Let us not forget our own yearnings and the prayers of our ambitious young for opportunity. Let us climb the highest mountain, without looking back till we have reached the top.



Source: The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians, Vol. 1, No. 1. Washington, D.C., April 15, 1913,  pp. 36-46.