The federal government had sought to integrate, or assimilate, Native Americans into the larger white culture for some time before the Canton Asylum opened. Policy-makers did not try to achieve this goal by meeting Native Americans halfway or by gradually introducing them to white values. Instead, their programs tended toward an immersion experience. Children were forced to attend boarding schools where staff tried to cut all ties to their previous cultural experience so they could more easily adopt the white way of life. Similarly, reservation life was permeated with federal influences on food, child-rearing, clothing, medical care, etc.
The government carried this immersion mentality–though probably not with any particular intention–into the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Though everyone involved in its physical planning strove to make the facility as nice as possible, authorities gave little consideration to how strange the asylum’s environment and routine would be to its residents. Everything from range toilets (see last post), electric lights, congregate meals in a dining room, sharing rooms with strangers, eating at set times, and so on, would likely be unfamiliar to them.
Instead of impressing or delighting patients, these things very likely contributed to at least an initial sense of disorientation. Many older patients would never have experienced the type of regimented days that the asylum imposed and which would have chafed anyone unused to appointed times for every activity. Very little at the asylum met its patients emotional and cultural needs, and probably contributed to its ineffectiveness in curing anyone who was not there with the mildest of issues.