Aspects of the Indian Problem

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Aspects of the Indian Problem
by Carl Schurz
The American Missionary, Vol. 37, No. 4 (April, 1883), pp. 105-107.



The increased interest of public-spirited citizens in the education of Indian children is one of the best, if not the best result, of recent discussions of the Indian question. The success of the schools at Hampton, in Virginia, Carlisle, in Pennsylvania, and Forest Grove, in Oregon, have amply demonstrated what can be accomplished if such schools be organized on the right principle and conducted with ability and energy. That this is more and more generally appreciated is all the more fortunate, as the Indian question is no longer one the solution of which can be trusted to time.

As the progress of settlement and enterprise in the far western regions, or, as it is called in a general way, “the development of the country,” advances, the old methods of providing for the Indians become obsolete. Large reservations of wild land, on which the Indian can freely roam and support himself, partly by hunting, will soon be things of the past. Even now an “Indian frontier” does no longer exist. The abiding places of the Indians are almost everywhere surrounded by rapidly increasing populations of white men eagerly pressing upon the Indian lands. One reservation after another is broken up to make room for new lines of communication and for agricultural and mining enterprises. However conscientious the government may be in its intention and endeavor to protect the rights of the Indians at all points, it is evident that the Indians will soon, in every part of the country, be interspersed with an aggressive force, constantly growing in volume and power, which will threaten to overwhelm them like a rising flood. Their circumstances are essentially changed. The alternative of civilization or extermination is immediately before them — civilization enabling them to become in all important respects a part of the population among which they are to live; or extermination in a vain struggle to maintain the habits of savage life against the progress of superior forces, or rapid decay as miserable paupers and outcasts by the failure of self-sustaining ability. This alternative presents itself not as a question looming up in the distant future, to be solved by coming generations, but as a question involving the existence of the young generation of Indians now living. It is, in one word, a question of immediate urgency.

If the Indians are to live at all, they must learn to live like white men. They can no longer stand in the way of the development of the country, but they must be enabled to become part of that development, and thus to be benefited by it. The “white man's way” of which they are in the habit of speaking, must not, as heretofore, remain to them a mere vague, shadowy idea, but they must acquire a practical conception of what the white man's way really is, what its objects are, and by what means those objects are attained. They must acquire that conception soon, for they will need it soon. The education of the young generation of Indians is therefore an immediately pressing necessity. And it must be an education that takes them out of their traditional ways of thinking, out of their old ambitions and habits of life. They must not only learn some reading and writing, but they must learn what reading and writing is for in the practical competitions of human existence. They must learn how to work and how to make their work useful. They must learn to love work by seeing and appreciating the fruits of it. Industrial training of a thoroughly practical kind must therefore go hand-in-hand with the ordinary rudimentary school education. The two things must be carried on with constant regard to the unity of aim.

The schools at Hampton, Carlisle and Forest Grove are conducted upon this principle, and the results attained there prove that Indian youths can be taught the things required to provide for the necessities of life and to lift the Indian above the state of the pauper as well as of the savage. Of course we must not expect too much of them. We must not expect that they will issue from these schools as model men and model women in every respect. We must not expect that on the average they will be better than the average of white boys and girls, raised under the same circumstances and with the same advantages or disadvantages, would be. In point of fact, the reports about the young men and women who, after having gone through their three years' term at Hampton or Carlisle, returned to their people in the western country, have been as different as reports would be about white boys and girls similarly situated. Some were bright, active and industrious, others dull and indolent. But a large majority of them have been doing well and showed a marked superiority in character, ambition and conduct over other young Indians who had not enjoyed the same kind of education. There is no doubt that their pressence among their people as teachers and examples and as a moving force generally will exercise a most healthy and elevating influence, provided the number of Indians so educated be large enough to make them among the rising generation the rule, instead of their remaining exceptional cases, as they now are. It is, therefore, essential that such schools and the number of pupils in them be multiplied as much as possible.

The schools at Hampton and Carlisle are mentioned here in preference to the schools established at the different agencies, partly because the former are superior as to the force of teachers employed there, as well as to their equipment in other respects, and partly because they offer to their Indian pupils the peculiar advantage of withdrawing them entirely from the savage influences of the Indian camps and placing them under the immediate influence of civilized surroundings, where they can learn the “white man's way,” by seeing civilization at work. But as this method of educating young Indians is expensive, and Congress rather parsimonious as to appropriations for such purposes, the number of Indians profiting from it is necessarily very small in proportion to the whole population, while it ought to be very large. The establishment of an Indian school on the same plan near the Santee agency in Nebraska, as contemplated by the American Missionary Association, is therefore all the more to be welcomed. Although the surroundings of that school will not be quite as civilized as those of Hampton and Carlisle, yet the Santee reservation is at least on all sides easily accessible to civilized influences. It is a small tract, encircled by settlements of white people. At the same time, a school established there will be able to draw its pupils from the great Sioux reserve in Dakota at small cost, the distance being inconsiderable and the means of communication cheap and convenient. The American Missionary Association could scarcely render a more valuable service to the Indian race or do more credit to its own good judgment and benevolent impulses than by making so valuable an addition to the educational forces among the red men.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.