Reactions to Into the West's Carlisle Indian School story line.

I'm starting to get comments - please post your comment here. Tell us what you think about this weekend's episode of Into the West.


barb said...

I'm starting to get emails from people who are asking for my reaction to the TNT series. In general, I think the show has been disappointing. I expected more from the likes of Steven Spielberg, but the Carlisle episode did resonate with me.

I thought the first two episodes presented the American Indian characters as two-dimensional and boring, and frankly, downright stupid - but I appreciated the attempt in this most recent episode at showing "resistance" to Carlisle - i.e. the scene in the woods, dancing around the fire. I'm sure students must've snuck off - not to dance but maybe to catch and roast rabbits or just to be away from the regimentation of school life.

I thought the Pratt character was not well written - yes, he was dogmatic and stern, but he wasn't inhumane and although he used those violent metaphors (/Kill the Indian....) /he was called "my dear school father" in countless letters from students. These letters are found in the National Archives' student folders. It was dramatic to see the huge numbers of Indian children - just the volumes of kids was heartrendering - and that was true. I cried at the scene with the mother trying to keep hold of her child. Of course, that happened. It was real and raw. I thought the scene showing children yawning and dozing from boredom at the school pageant was brilliant.

This series is uneven and I would've chosen Tommy Lee Jones or somebody with more of a "bite" to play Pratt but I trink Keith Carradine did the best he could with the material he was given. I'm really disappointed with the lack of character development in the Pratt role but then, how can you give Carlisle and Chilocco and Chemawa and Sherman and Santa Fe and Albuquerque and on and on their due with just one hour?

An hour is not enough time to give any realistic portrayal of Carlisle. We are looking at an incredibly complex history that features stories of mothers hiding their children from agents in order to prevent them from being sent away never to return, as well as mothers pleading with officials to send their children to the very school from which they themselves graduated in order to give their own an exceptional educational experience.

Students met and married at Carlisle. Students excelled in sports and joined professional baseball and football teams after Carlisle. They joined the Army and fought in the Spanish American War and in World War I and represented the finast and best of our military service. Students ran away and those boys and girls represent a lasting legacy of runaways at every Indian boarding school everywhere in the country. Students died.

There's so much to these stories and frankly, I submit that until the native side of the experience is written in screenplays by Indian writers who can capture the intricate complexities of these stories, we'll continue to be disappointed in these Carlisle-related products. I welcome other points of view because I truly enjoy arguing these points.

Barb Landis

Anonymous said...

It's not uncommon for us who are interested in history, keep our history, and who portray living history for educational purposes, to be disappointed with Hollywood.

As I was still watching this weekend's episode I logged on to research the CIIS to see how accurate it was. I am very happy to see your post.

I believe Hollywood opened a door of history for us to peek through with bigger glasses this time. I'm sure many people's curiosity will be peaked by this episode and this series. This is good. I hope you still continue to write and put out info on line!

The show also makes me wonder why there is not more of this "assimilation" or "cultural genocide" in our history books and common knowledge among today's Americans.

I am a school teacher also and will be sure to encourage my students and collegues to learn more about this aspect of our history.

It is now required in NJ for students to study the Holocaust of WWII; Least we learn the lessons of this era. It would please my heart if this show sparked in people a curiosity of the Holocasust of the Native Americans. Least we not forget and we can relearn what we have missed from our Native people. My first thought is how the US lawmakers and policy makers are not respecting the pristine areas of the earth and the atmostphere. We do not have policies that are good for 7 generations. This is an example of one Native American Philosphy that we could and, in my opinion, should incorporate into today's modern culture and policies. I'm sure there are many more lessons we can recover.

I encourage you, Barb, to contact the local media, including TV stations and newspapers offer yourself for interviews to critique the show and to expand information on the CIIS. Big networks sometimes pic up on local stuff and you would do our society a wonderful service to get more history of this time into American Mainstream.

I hope to see you on Oprah. The media is a powerful thing

Wanishi for this forum.

Anonymous said...

Been watching this Tv drama for a couple of shows now.
>Noticed a lot of folks are giving it a thumbs-down as far as it's historical merit and accuracy.
>The show uses a lot of the old stereotypical crutches that you see on most shows that claim to tell things from the Indian point of view, or claim to be a little more sympathetic to the Indian point of view.
>However, the show last night had a segment that really struck home with me.
>This segment portrayed the children >taken out of the Indian population, or >in this case, off of the rez, and sent >to Carlisle for schooling.
>Carlisle, as I am sure all of you know, >is the alma mater of Jim Thorpe.
>The images really hit home.
>Although I did not attend boarding school, I still empathized with the story line as so many of my friends, colleagues, ancestors and relatives did attend various boarding schools.
>The show demonstrated, fairly >accurately, the separation anxiety and >the subsequent challenges met by Indian >children as they arrived at Carlisle.
>My wife looked over at me as a tear was >running down my face. Flabbergasted, >she sort of laughed at me, and wanted >to know why I was so moved?
>She can't understand, as she doesn't >have the background, to her, it was 'no >big deal'.
>But, I remembered my own grandmother, sent to Chilocco at age 13, and who walked home Christmas break of her senior year, 150 miles, just to go home for Christmas in 1933, only to never return and graduate. And, my grandfather, who walked in the front door of Chilocco, and then straight on down the long hallway and out the back door, and broke into a dead run, and also walked all the way home, and never went back.
>To all my aunts, great aunts, great uncles, cousins, etc., who did go to Haskell, or Sequoyah, or Chilocco, or Riverside, etc., and endured, and in some cases, thrived, during their days at similiar venues to Carlisle as portrayed in the TV show.
>These are the ones I cried for.
>"Into The West", is a bit romantic, a >bit sloppy, a little mellodramatic, >but, it did provide a rare moment of >genuine humanity that I found moving >and in this case, hit a nerve with me.

Anonymous said...

I frankly agree with most of your comments. But I've heard from friends who knew nothing about the history of our government policy toward the Indians,that this was the first program series on national television to show 'the Indian side' of 'Manifest Destiny'
even in a slight light.
Knowing another side of Pratt's character from my research into the life of one of Carlisle's outstanding students, 'Kills in the Woods', Chauncey Yellow Robe, I totally agree with you that Pratt was admired by many of his students and kept in touch with them for years. He mentored them and was proud of their accomplishments.
Chauncey, along with many of his fellow Carlisle classmates never forgot their Indian language or culture. Chauncey tried to combine the best of the White and Indian cultures to teach to his students.
I must admit that I was completely mesmerized by the featured young Indian boy who cut off his own braids. I had
been interested in his 'character' from the beginning because he reminded me intensely of 'Kills In The Woods'. Although he was not among the first class at Carlisle, his story was so similar, that I found myself completely absorbed 'seeing
Chauncey more clearly. Chauncey had been sent by his father to Carlisle on a mission to help his people on his return with information to help them thrive, not just survive.

Anonymous said...

thank you for your comments...have you seen 500 Nations?..have been viewing it this morn and was quite surprised by some of the things that happened (government)..well, had known they got and are still getting a raw deal..I agree with the teacher who said that the Native genocide is this country should be brought to light...we go to other countries to "defend" their citizens from invaders..how ironic!

Anonymous said...

I never heard of these schools until I watched a movie on World Link Tv a couple of years ago. From what I can tell the majority of the schools were meant to take away the culture from these kids. It is disusting to me. I already felt the way the American Indians were treated was atrocious and when I found out about the schools it was like pooring salt in a wound.

Donna Flood said...

It was good of you to write these thoughts about boarding schools. Everyone has a different story to tell, probably as many as there are students.

My story was that I deeply appreciated the schooling I had at Chilocco. I had the advantage of having a grandmother graduate there and then my mother went there for something like eight years. All my young life Gramma and Mother told me fun stories about their time at Chilocco. When I entered the boarding school it was with a feeling, "Wow, I've finally been allowed to enter this wonderful school." The feeling was that I was at last grown-up and able to take on the challenges before me. Of course, the rules and military regimen was greatly relaxed and I didn't experience any of what Mother and Grandmother had.

I don't know what happened in other boarding schools. I've heard very sad, sad things and even one movie about the little Cherokee boy who had to finally pray on the "day star" for his father to come for him, which he did.

For all the sad stories I 'm thankful I was not ever abused in any way. Rather I felt almost as if I was being spoiled. Our hard working life to survive at home make Chilocco look like a resort to me. I loved it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sending the e-mail and inviting comments. I second the previous comment about seeing you on Oprah one day! Wouldn't a segment on Carlisle bring the historic message of Carlisle to light for many who have no idea?

I have watched all segments of Into the West. I see it as a more dramatic "How the West was Won". I see it as a step forward for telling how the conflicts of the West were woven together and many historic issues were told that really haven't shown up on TV. I agree is at times has been Hollywood overload. I was very moved by the sensitivity displayed in regards to the pain endured by the Carlisle students , particularily the young man who cut his own hair. I was touched how they got up in the middle of the night to dance around the fire to stay true to themselves and their nation.

Someone else mentioned "500 Nations"--have it but haven't started watching it yet....guess it is time to do that.


Roberta Hickman said...

I have a picture of Carlisle school. It does not have the year but there are Indian children in the picture. The back of the picture "Photographs of Indian school for sale
No.21 West Main street----Carlisle Penna. I found it in pictures from my Grandmother. Her Father was Rev. John Menaul. He was a missionaary with the Indians.

Anonymous said...

barbra- i am desperatly searching for my great grandfather, whom i believe attended the carlisle school. I can't get your email address for some reason, please email me lelouchoo@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

It was hard to watch what happened to my people. What made me cry was when Pratt said to the group of Native children your now "Americans".

These schools spread across the land, as I look up on my wall and see a paper that reads United States Indian School, Flandreau Indian School SD. This is where my mother was sent as well as Sherman Institute in Riverside California. As I was constantly reminded by my mother that we were to be just "Americans". So I was not taught my Dakota Language.

I was ashamhed to be American Indian. Steven Spiedlberg has brought out the truth, which is so hard for many Americans to accept.

That's why some of the comments I just read show the immigrants who came and took land are afraid of hearing this truth.

Gerri GrosVenor

Anonymous said...

I am writing after the author, Gerri GrosVenor....What she did not reveal was on both sides of her family, the maternal and paternal side, the family was from 3 generations of boarding schools. On her paternal side, her grandfather, a Wailaki/Wintun was sent to one of the most brutal and evil schools in Phoenix, Arizona.

I was in a non federal boarding school that had Indian and some Mexican kids. These experiences in our lives reflect the cruelty of "American Whites" and their prejudice and bigotry.

The lady who used suchs words as 'stupid' and 'borning' has never seen the world through Indian eyes and the generational pain.

The writer says she would have chosen "Tommy Lee Jones" is still in a movie world and has no exprience in the life of an Indian. Sad!

The series seems pretty accurte...... knowing history pretty well, and having heard the stories of many elders who have been through the forced abductions and sent off to boarding schools. These testimonies I've heard from across the west who had been kidnapped by "Indian Agents" and the children's parents did not even know where their children disappeared to for some time later.

It appauls me to this very day how inggorant and seeminly un-teachable the writer, Barb, seems to be. Just one 'voice' of many whose "reality" is formed by either books, movies or imagination.

The truth must be told.

Anonymous said...

keep in mind folks, as much as we know this is not truly an accurate representation, this is as close as hollywood has come in a long time. This, after all, is not the history channel, but is meant to capture the viewership of a wider audience. At least this has the ability to pique the interest of those who otherwise would never had known or were even awre that such things occured.

Anonymous said...

Being a full blooded North American Indian it is good to see someone trying to fight racism by creating understanding through the media. the media is very powerful. i fully enjoyed everything that was said. People look at me differently now.

Anonymous said...

As a Cheyenne Indian oral historian with many years of recording and documenting the elders on their experiences in boarding schools I can only relate that no television series or documentary will ever hit on the near truth of the trauma experienced with the boarding school tactics.
Whether the public is ready to see and hear the as near truth of the damage done to Indian lives and the ways of destruction the boarding schools did to Indian culture and history is something that has remained in the closet and the truth far from being presented today with near accurate truths.
I did not have the oppurtunity to see the series on Carlisle but have had many calls from Indian people saying they were disappointed in the script.The writings I have published in the newspaper I am a featured writer in here in Oklahoma on the history of Cheyennes and the boarding schools tells me the disappionment in the TNT series by the number of disappointed Indian people who veiwed the show and called me to air their views of such a missing link of the real truth of the boarding schools.
Who best can comment than those who experienced this horrible trauma than those that know the real tragadies they had and still suffer today?
Barbara Landis and her research and expertise on the history of Carlisle and presenting the truth should have been contacted. She could have put the movie people responsible for the research of Carlisle and the other boarding schools in a more truthful aspect from her contacts and recording and documenting of the Indain people she works with.These Indian people could very well present a well balanced history of these boarding school experiences and even how boarding schools came to be.Along with the boarding schools destruction of the Indain peoples ways of life to be like whites.
The Landis web site on Carlisle is one of a kind that presents the near as can be facts of the real people that attended Carlisle and will eventually become one of the main, if not the only site, that presents the real historical presentation of Indian boarding schools from the info. of the real Indian peoples oral stories and histories.

IPorter said...

I am Pima, T'hono O'dtham, and Nez Perce. Many of my ancestors attended Carlisle and/or other boarding schools. Anytime Hollywood does "Indian" it isn't going to be accurate so I don't understand why people who have responded on this site think it would have been! I have watched all segments of Into The West and have enjoyed the series for its drama, period. I know its fictionalized and don't expect accuracy in it but appreciate authenic portrayals.

Barb mentions "the Pratt character was not well written - yes, he was dogmatic and stern, but he wasn't inhumane and although he used those violent metaphors (/Kill the Indian....) /he was called "my dear school father" in countless letters from students.

Nobody has the right to condemn another person's culture. Not for religious reasons nor ethnocentric notions that "they had to civilize the Indian." Civilize us from what? Native people's culture before euro encroachment was closer to living out the Ten Commandments than was the culture of those who brought the Good News. With one breath white people said you have to believe and love then with the next breath they stole, cheated, and pillaged the land and people who were here.

The boarding school system was contrived as a way to de-indianize these children. Get them away from their parents and the tribe and you can mold them into anything you want to. A guy named Adolf Hitler had the same idea and maybe now we know where he got it! No matter what "dear school father" concept you put on it, after the fact, it was a system which replaced a culture of thousands of years with that of only a few hundred. It was a system which replaced one value system with another. And just because the "other" took, doesn't make it right. You do not have the right to do what is wrong.

Native people whose ancestors attended these schools are a matter of fact. That history cannot be changed. Those who attended did the best they could to cope and assimilate and get along with the system. But at a huge price. The lose of languages to tribes is chief among the costs. More tribes lost their languages than those who have retained them. Not just as a result of the boarding schools but other causes including the assistance of the Church.

Those schools kept these children and youth away from their people even in the summer because too many were "going back to the blanket" when they got home and sometimes didn't even return. Some students went home for breaks and were appalled at the way their people lived because they had been taught that another set of values and way of living was more acceptable. What is right about that? How is learning to be ashamed of your own parents a righteous act?

These kids were used as labor for farmers and industry just so they wouldn't be able to go home to see their families. Compassionate?

On-reservation schools would have taught the 3R's just as well. But these schools were devised as a way of brainwashing a generation into submission. If not, why keep them away from their people?

Portrayals of this nasty little secret hidden away in America's closet vary. Many want to quickly claim them to be inaccurate. Well and fine. But it happened.

I honestly believe that some of those who agreed to be paid to be part of this indoctrination thought they were doing what was right, in their time, in their truth. But it was wrong. Plain and simple.

Thank you.

Bob Reising said...

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School segment ofthe TV series, indeed,represents a quick and oversimplified introduction to Pratt and the students he was committed to "Americanizing." I think two omissions were particularly unfortunate: 1) there was no attention to the "Outing System," key in the school's method of educating; 2) there was no attention to "running"--the fact that numerous students "ran" from Carlisle, some even two and three times.
But TV is much like Hollywood, as several writers have indicated:its principal goal is not to educate or enlighten but to entertain. That goal virtually mandates that shows be superficial
or simplistic, that details and nuances be few, and that insights be acceptable to mainstream audiences. In assessing those shows, one would be wise to recall that Ernest Hemingway, whose short stories and novels were popular with Hollywood and TV, respected only one film version of his works: THE KILLERS of 1946. Like the Carlisle story, what Hemingway had to say about the world was not pleasant, yet film makers invariably transformed his narratives into "Happily Ever After" tales. Ticket buyers were happy; he wasn't.

Barb F. said...

I was very interested to watch the episode of "Into the West" re: Carlisle. I had heard of the series but not watched it. However, living in nearby York, PA, and knowing that my husband's half-ancestor went to Carlisle gave me an interest in watching last night's episode.
I realize it is not anywhere near the truth - has been made "Hollywood-ized". But it did give me pause to think about what his ancestor went through when he attended the school. I suspect his story may differ slightly in that only his mother was Indian, while his father was white, and he was living as a white American before he was sent there. I can only surmise his trauma may not have been as great.

But I am sure those who were pulled from there families and tribes did suffer great trauma at the loss of their hair, their clothing & ornaments, their language, and their ways. I don't know if complete immersion in the white ways was the proper way to go or whether the fictional "Mr. Wheeler" had a better idea by allowing them to retain some of their heritage as they assimilated.
But all in all it was a bit of an eye-opener for me into that life and what happened at Carlisle.

Anonymous said...

I think this series for the most part, through the eyes an African-American, is a very informative show. It touches on many hidden aspects of western culture just by watching all the side plots and scenery throughtout the series. There are a lot things they have crammed into this show, runaway slaves, irish immigrants, female peonage and of course white-male religious hyypocrisy.
I've felt nothing but compassion for Native-Americans during this show, as I can see the same seething hatred and demonic attitudes that was used against Southern slaves being used to exterminate Nat.-Americans. I think it is a show that all Americans should watch, reagardless of how well it portrayed one side or the other. It's history and there is something to be learned from this. Spielberg is good for bringing issues to the table in his movies, he did it for the Jewish people, African-Americans and now Native-Americans. We've come a long way, but not far enough!
I think it shows a good mixture and the complexity of human nature and the struggles we as poeple and indivduals go through just to make to the next day. The balancing of ones identity within the framework of family and society is a tightrope that a think this show has done a good job of revealing. Life is ful of decisions we have made and will continue to make. Hopefully this show will remind us which ones we should not repeat again again.

Gail W. said...

Hello Barb,

As you know I had family at Carlisle. I watched the episode you asked me to look at and compared it to comments my family has shared over the years. The episode was very very watered down. Pratt was not well written, no mention of "Man on the Band Stand," or other atrocities that occured there. I am sorry that it had to be watered down, and I am sorry that more time was not devoted to the boarding school issues. However, at least it was addressed and people who had no idea this existed were hopefully enlightened about what did happen at Carlisle and other boarding schools. All I can say is that I am happy that you are so dedicated to keeping this part of our history in the forefront. I thank you for all you do.

Gail W.

Ana said...

I cried for those children who were striped of their identities and forced to act as others. None of it was humane. Just the trauma of being ripped away from one's family is bad enough but then to be told that everything you ever believed in was wrong just is horrible. It would have made more sense to bring the schools to them with the idea that knowledge is power instead of what they did to those children and to their families. I cried throughout the entire episode watching it on TV but my heart was broken way before this from learning of those children's history years ago. I find that the pain doesn't go away, the injustice is there and done. The effects will be felt for many more generations to come, more so in the effects of family bonding and self-identity than anything else.
Can you just imagine the mental effects that it would have on us if the Iraqis or the Russians were to invade us, and tell us that our homes now belong to them because they have the "stronger weapons" or that their way of life is better than ours, and then take our own children and force their ways on them. Can you see your child wearing a turban and being taught that what you stand for is all wrong.

Willy said...

As a Mohawk who spoke to my Grandmother about her experiences at Carlisle, all I can think about are the vast number of stories still ruminating amongst the descendents. It was fascinating to hear of her trip from the reservation to Carlisle, her interactions with her peers, the language bariers that existed, the wailing of the new students in the dormatories, the trip to Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, her experience as a "Company A" group leader, her respect and humbleness for humankind and all its frailties, etc. It was amazing when she browsed through the booklet published about Carlisle in 2000 or 2001. She saw friends, and said their names with such an enthusiasm. It was as if all were alive today. She was a wealth of information, as all of our ancestors were. Barb, thanks again for all of your help. -Nioheraseh (Young Corn Stalks)

Anonymous said...

Yes, the Carlisle segment resonated, but unlike "Schindler's List", the horror and the inhumanity went unaddressed. The series only touched briefly on the experiences of Native children arriving at Carlisle, and even then only addressed the first wave of children, not those who arrived after Pratt "perfected" his methods for "killing the Indian". Pratt was a military officer who applied his experience to children. Children ran away from Carlisle and died in the effort, children stayed at Carlisle and died of TB, and children finally left TB dead culturally. Those multiple losses decimated Native communities, yet what we saw in the series could easily be explained away by saying "All schools were rigid and punitive back then. The Indians weren't treated any worse than the white children of the time". Which, we all know, is appallingly untrue.

Chuck said...

I have not seen any segment of Into The West. However reading the wonderful range of comments and observations I feel that I’ve been here in this conflicted, tragic and well -intended episode before; and I live in pieces of it all the time. There seem to be several critical parts of the Carlisle portion of our American ‘manifest destiny’ history. Because accuracy requires that we acknowledge the period in which Richard Henry Pratt lived, the ’Christian values of his faith, which was very strong and which informed his nearly every action and strategies in trying to ‘Welcome the American Indian’ into the ‘American Family’ as the European immigrants were assimilated, albeit more often grudgingly, with various nationalities (before, during and after Ellis Island).

He had sworn to defend the Constitution as a commissioned Officer, first in the Civil War which was primarily in his mind about preserving the nation and abolition; secondly, his awareness of the discordances of being a commissioned white officer, leading ex-slave / black troops who could never be commissioned, and being in charge of Indian scouts who were sworn to die for a country they could never be citizens of. Those eight years on the ‘staked plains’ (Oklahoma) and his subsequent three years experience of supervising a group of Indian warriors that the government could not prosecute under Federal law provided him the epiphany that his life’s work would be trying to rectify his fellow countrymen’s concept of the ‘savage Indian.’ And in his own lights with resources he had or could find to hand to demonstrate their natural human capability to participate in that society. Also, note that his contemporary adversaries’ attitudes ranged from ‘kill the warrior in the womb’ to just contain them on the reservation, move them around as reservation lands took on value, and keep ‘em down.

In today’s views and values, his pedagogy, and treatment of his charges are clearly not only flawed, but wrong and inhumane. He lived then, not now. In his value structure it was a historical crusade to save the native peoples from an apparent eternity of reservation life and continued European immigrant abuse.

Even his tomb in Arlington represents this disparity: “Brigadier Richard Henry Pratt and his wife Laura, Erected in loving memory by his students and other Indians.” And the question remains, just how far have we come since his retirement 100 years ago? And what are we doing about it?

Chuck Wells, Great Grandson of Richard Henry Pratt

P.S. Thanks for your dedication to this issue and thanks those Indian historians and others who are dedicated to resolving the consequent tragedies of ‘Manifest Destiny.’

alicia said...

I have a few questions to ask does anyone know what happened to the children who refused to cut there hair or spoke in their own language? I think it would be informative to know they did not show the truth completely in this TV series but only what they wanted people to know..there is a cemetery in carlisle Pa but there are more children barried there than what it seems not every child has a gravestone,, what its looks like from this series is the children who had died only died from diseases, but this is not,, this whole series left out truth and only told little parts of what they wanted people to know,, sad I think for the year 2005,,