Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Rainy Mountain Boarding School

Indian Schools

Beginning in the colonial era of the United States, people and religious groups attempted to assimilate  Native Americans into the white man's culture through schools and education.   The Indians themselves, particularly the Five Civilized Tribes, often valued education of their own members as a defensive measure to navigate successfully in the expanding white man's world.  (Thankfully, there were also groups that fought hard to maintain their native cultures).   Indian Schools became an important part of federal policy, particularly in Oklahoma where there were not only a large number of Indians that had been relocated there, but also many distinct  tribes.   There were specific stipulations put into treaties made with the Plains tribes relocated to Oklahoma in the 1860s.  These treaties required the federal government to build schools and provide teachers for at least 20 years.  

Rainy Mountain Indian School

The Kiowas participated in the treaty signed at Medicine Lodge Creek in 1867 where they gave up more than 60,000 square miles of hunting grounds in exchange for a 3 million acre reservation in southwestern Oklahoma.  They did not get their promised school, however, until 1893 (more than 25 years later) when the Rainy Mountain Indian School opened up.   There were typically two types of Indian schools: Day Schools, which were mostly operated by religious missions; and Boarding Schools, which were operated by both religious organizations and the government.  Rainy Mountain was a government boarding school for the Kiowas built on their reservation lands.   The school operated until 1920 when it  was closed down and abandoned.

Students at Rainy Mountain School: courtesy

Unlike some of the well known schools, such as Carlisle or Phoenix, where students were taken far away from their reservation lands, Rainy Mountain Boarding School was close by and therefore mostly had the support of the Kiowa people.   The federal goal for the Indian Schools was to assimilate Indian people into the white man's world by separating their children from  their native customs, their native language and their native families while giving them a rudimentary education and teaching them practical skills in the white man's ways.   Rainy Mountain, like most schools, had a very strict environment.    Boys and girls were kept almost totally separated.   Hair cuts were forced upon arrival (removing traditional long braids), uniforms were provided, new English names were assigned and the Kiowa language was strictly forbidden at all times.  

Students, interviewed long after their years at Rainy Mountain School, remember a strict, almost military style, regimen of chores half of each day combined with classroom experiences the remainder of each day.  The children were provided clothes to wear and food to eat and classroom time, but they were also expected to work hard around the school much of the time cooking, sewing, gardening, etc.   The students were punished severely if caught speaking in their native language.  They attended church services on Sundays and every other Saturday they walked to town as a group.  Clyde Ellis has written a book about the school: To Change Them Forever: Indian Education at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School, 1893-1920.   He takes the title from a quote of school's superintendent, "Our purpose is to change them forever."   While it did not make the Kiowas "white men", the  experience did change them, and left the Kiowas petitioning the government for better and fair access to schools and education long after the school was closed down in 1920.  


Nate Maas said...

The last high school in our county that allowed students to board there for the week, ended the program in the 1980s. Students from the other side of the county would come and stay there Monday through Friday and then return home for the weekends. I imagine it would provide a very different educational experience for those so young.

mary said...

I can't imagine "losing" my children so early. It was hard enough when they left for college. There is so much "learning" that takes place at home, and these children were totally denied the value of their own culture.

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