Tag Archives: Indian assimilation

Fourth of July

Sioux Indians Hitting a Dime at 100 Yards, July 4, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress

The Indian Bureau was never culturally sensitive, especially when it came to Native American celebrations. It actively discouraged or forbade ceremonial dances, feasts, and other gatherings, fearing that they might unite tribes or keep them from assimilating into white culture. Most gatherings required written permission. One explanation for the Indian Bureau allowing celebrations at all was offered in Sunday Magazine (July 2, 1911): “Shut off on reservations and compelled to do without any extraneous amusements, the Indian grows morose and is much more inclined to give trouble than when occasionally permitted to enjoy himself.”

The Bureau didn’t pay as much attention to Fourth of July celebrations, and Native Americans soon discovered that they could get together on that day without written permission. They began to use the Fourth of July as an excuse to gather and perform the dances and ceremonies they enjoyed. Some tribes had a practice of giving away assets during celebrations, often through a formal ceremony called a potlatch. Native Americans considered it an honor to give their possessions to others, and often gave to the poorest members of the tribe, first. Sioux Indians apparently ramped up this gift-giving practice on the Fourth of July, and the Indian Bureau began calling this “Give-Away Day.” Tribal members celebrated the Fourth with games of skill and strength, feasting, and dancing. They also incorporated their practice of honoring individuals with important gifts, with no thought of reciprocation. Gifts were substantial–horses, fancy bead work, saddles, and other valuable items. Whites seemed to be amazed by the practice, since it often left the giver without any resources.

Fourth of July Celebration, 1891, South Dakota, courtesy Library of Congress

 

Nez Perce Fourth of July Parade, Spaulding, Idaho, 1902, courtesy Library of Congress

______________________________________________________________________________________

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr

The BIA Field Matron Program

Field Matron, Arizona

Field Matron, Arizona

Between 1890 and 1938, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) employed women as Field Matrons. Their job was to go into Native American homes to teach domestic science (sewing, cooking, hygiene, etc.) according to middle-class white standards. This was a relatively peaceful way for the BIA to continue its work of assimilating Indians into white culture; they destroyed Indians’ old habits and ways of doing things and replaced them with the white man’s way.

Matrons taught mainly on reservations, since the feeling was that Indians still living in teepees or roaming the land wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the matrons’ lessons. Besides sewing and other practical accomplishments, matrons taught Indian women to decorate their homes, care for their animals and children like whites, and teach their children sports and Anglo games. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Cato Sells urged matrons to stress the importance of legal marriage to Indians, and to try to increase their desire for material goods so that lazy Indians would work harder to provide them.

Typical Indian Home (Flathead Reservation, 1909), courtesy Library of Congress

Typical Indian Home (Flathead Reservation, 1909), courtesy Library of Congress

Interior of Teepee (1905-1907?), courtesy Library of Congress

Interior of Teepee (1905-1907?), courtesy Library of Congress

Field matrons were charged with “civilizing” Indians in their own homes. Though heavy-handed, it was preferable to tearing families apart and sending children away as the BIA’s boarding school program did. Though the BIA applauded their efforts, eventually devastating health problems among Indians prompted the agency to replace field matrons with nurses.

_______________________________________________________________

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblr