1776-1926: Indian education means "assimilation"

The United States of America entered into over 370 treaties with various Indian nations over the course of its history from 1778 through 1871. These treaties created trust responsibilities for the federal government with the Indian people, just as it is included agreements that the federal government would provide education, health, technical, and agricultural services to the tribes.

Until 1926, Indian education was viewed as a "civilizing" or "assimilation" process. The "assimilationists" saw the non-reservation boarding school as the best way to make young Indian children accept white men's beliefs and value systems.

The most well-known of all the non-reservation boarding schools was the school established in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, by Col. Richard Henry Pratt in 1879. His goal was complete assimilation.
  • Students had to wear standard uniforms
  • Boys had their long hair cut
  • Students were given new names
  • Traditional foods were abandoned
  • Students were not allowed to speak their native languages, even to each other
Conversion to Christianity was deemed essential. Carlisle had a football team so the boys could learn the American value of winning. Holidays such as Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, New Year's, and Memorial Day were used to further indoctrinate Indian youths into white culture.

In the end, parents and students resisted the non-reservation schools and most Indian students did not assimilate into white society.

When Francis Ellington Leupp became Indian Commissioner in 1905, he worked to re-orient Indian policy. He believed assimilation should be a gradual process. While the general policy of the non-reservation schools actually changed very little over the next 20 years, a greater emphasis was placed on day schools after 1900.