The Atlantic

The Schools That Tried—But Failed—to Make Native Americans Obsolete

“Education was something that was done to us, not something that was provided for us.”
Source: Kristina Barker

Two centuries ago, Congress passed a law that kicked into high gear the U.S. government’s campaign to assimilate Native Americans to Western culture—to figuratively “kill the Indian,” as one general later put it, and “save the man.”

The Civilization Fund Act of 1819, passed 200 years ago this week, had the of infusing the country’s indigenous people with “good moral character” and vocational skills. The law tasked Christian missions and the federal government with teaching young indigenous Americans subjects ranging from reading to math, eventually leading to a network of boarding schools designed to carry out this charge. The act was, in effect, an effort to stamp out America’s original cultural identity and replace it with one that Europeans had, not long before, imported to the continent. Over time, countless Native American children.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic7 min readPolitics
Even Democrats Keep Thinking Iran Is Worse Than Saudi Arabia
The 2020 candidates are resisting the latest brush with war, but they’re not going far enough.
The Atlantic4 min read
Game of Thrones Is Over. Now What About the Books?
George R. R. Martin insists that the final entries in his fantasy series are still coming—even though HBO has finished telling his story first.
The Atlantic5 min readPolitics
Europe’s Far-Right Leaders Are Using Facebook to Transcend Borders
Captioned in English, sponsored by the Hungarian government, promoted to social-media users in Greece: A video about a Belgian politician represents a new trend in the spread of illiberalism.