What evidence could support the idea that by learning about Residential schools, we can understand a Native American world view?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One can see how the presence of a Residential school would impact the world view of Native Americans.  By all accounts, the presence of the Residential school was to ensure that the young generation of Native Americans would be assimilated into "American" culture.  The boarding school had the direct intent of exposing these children to embracing a culture that was more "American," and one that was less indigenous.  These schools were designed for Native American children to be "immersed in the values and practical knowledge of the dominant American society while also being kept away from any influences imparted by their traditionally-minded relatives." 

Just in such a description, one can see how a Native American world view would be impacted.  On one hand, a case can be made that White society sought to act with "good intentions" to Native Americans.  The desire to make these children "more productive" members of society established the idea that the "melting pot" of American life applied to Native Americans, as well.  In this vision, there is a worldview in which individual difference is not seen as a beneficial element.  It is something to be overcome and the presence of the boarding school serves to enhance this element to the Native American.  On some level, it can be seen as benevolence to want to include Native Americans in such a vision.  While the White society might wish to represent something good and inclusive, its acts have unforeseen and brutal consequences.  One need only look at the "Before" and "After" pictures of the Native American children at the boarding school as evidence of this.  This can be one way in which the Native American world view could be impacted through the boarding school: White culture simply did not "get it" when it comes to Native American identity.

There is more sinister approach to seeing the Residential school as profoundly impacting the Native American world view.  The Residential school clearly suggests a condition of consciousness as one in which a Native American can see how White Society saw their presence as a threat.  To essentially cut off a generation of a group of people from their past, ensuring the culture's rejection by the next generation guarantees a world view in which there is opposition between both the dominant culture and the indigenous one.  Native Americans understood the presence of White Americans to be a threatening one.  The residential school symbolized how White Americans saw Native Americans as objects to be overcome.  This was not merely done through aggressive expansion, through bullets and legal maneuvering, or through social marginalization.  It was accomplished by taking their young from them, using them as ways to further silence their voices by essentially indoctrinating them to embrace a culture against their own in order to wipe it out from memory.  When one reads of the narratives in the Residential schools how children were punished for displaying or articulating anything that was reminiscent of their "former" identities, it creates an intensely oppositional world view of Native Americans.