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Living Voices Native Vision study guide

Native Vision Study Guide

Native Vision focuses on the story of Alice Benally, a young Navajo girl who is taken from her home and placed in a government-run boarding school during the 1930s, as part of a government effort to "civilize" Native American children into mainstream society.
Growing up, Alice and her cousin Carl learn the stories of previous generations and these schools. Their grandmother was sent to Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, the first of the off-reservation boarding schools. These children were isolated from their families, forced to speak only English and to break all ties with traditional life. Alice and Carl are sent to a boarding school located on the Navajo reservation, allowing them to return home to their family in the summers. 
Healing traditions have been passed down to Alice through her family. Her grandfather, father and uncle are all hataali, medicine men. Her mother and grandmother also teach Alice about traditional healing plants and remedies. At boarding school, Alice is put to work in the infirmary, and later encouraged to pursue a career as a nurse. After high school, she attends the Sage Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, established exclusively for training Native American women as nurses. Alice strives to find a balance between Western medicine and the Navajo traditions of healing.

When World War II breaks out, Carl is eager to serve, and enlists in a special program with the Marines, who are recruiting Navajo men from the reservation. When Alice graduates from nursing school, she decides to join the Navy and is ultimately stationed at the Naval hospital in San Diego, where she is able to see Carl during his training. Before shipping out to the South Pacific, Carl reveals to Alice his work as a Code Talker, but swears her to secrecy.

When the war ends, Alice returns to the reservation with Carl, who tells her that the work of the Code Talkers is still classified information. Alice reflects on all the different kinds of healing she and her community need from their connections to the outside world, and what she can do to help as a healer from both worlds.
Through Alice’s experiences of fighting to retain her culture and traditions within unfamiliar and sometimes hostile environments, we also hear the stories of her family, ancestors and tribe. These stories demonstrate the internal and external conflicts faced by generations of young Native Americans and parallel the broader history of Native American life.



Anthropologists believe the Navajos probably arrived in the Southwest between 800 and 1,000 years ago. The Navajo people call themselves Diné, literally meaning “The People.” They occupy a vast area of the southwest spreading across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. The lands of the Navajo encompass an area larger than the states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey combined, the largest Indian reservation in the United States.

After the US defeated Mexico in 1846 and gained control of the territory known today as the Southwest and California, Colonel Kit Carson instituted a scorched earth policy, burning Navajo fields and homes, and stealing or killing their livestock. After starving the Navajos into submission, Carson rounded up and took prisoner every Navajo he could find. In the spring of 1864, he forced 8,000 Navajo men, women and children to march 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Navajos call this “The Long Walk.” Many died along the way or during their four long years of imprisonment. In 1868, after signing a treaty with the US government, remaining Navajos were allowed to return to designated areas of their homeland designated lands, where the Navajo Reservation exists today.

Generally speaking, Navajos do not live in villages. Their traditions did not dictate this necessity, as is common with other Native American societies. They have always banded together in small groups, often near a source of water. Their wide dispersion across the reservation is due in part to the limited amount of grazing land, and the limited availability of water.

The traditional Navajo dwelling, the hogan, is a conical or circular structure constructed of logs or stone. The more modern version is usually six-sided with a smoke hole in the center of the roof constructed of wood or cement. The doorway typically faces the East.

Traditionally, the Navajos are a matriarchal society, with descent and inheritance determined through one's mother. Navajo women have traditionally owned the bulk of resources and property, such as livestock. Traditional Navajo have a strong sense of family allegiance and obligation. Today, “acculturation” to a more nuclear family structure is increasingly present. As a culture in transition, the Navajo people and their traditional lifestyle are under the substantial stress brought about by rapid change in their society.

The Navajo are the largest tribe in the United States: one in 8 American Indians is a Navajo. They account for almost fifteen percent of the Native American population in the 1990 census and number in excess of 250,000 members.

Current conditions on the Navajo Reservation:

  • More than 50% of the Navajo live below the poverty line

  • Unemployment rate is 35% in the larger towns on the reservation, and as high as 50% in the rural areas

  • Income per person averages $4,100 per year: about the same as Brazil; the US average is $30,000

  • 75 % live on the reservation of the 30,000 existing homes occupied by Navajo members, 80 % lack plumbing, telephones, or electricity

  • Suicide rate is 30% higher than the U.S. average


ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States of America, to all and singular to whom these presents shall come, greetings:

Whereas a Treaty was made and concluded at Fort Sumner, in the Territory of New Mexico, on the first day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight, by and between Lieutenant General W.T. Sherman and Samuel F. Tappan, Commissioners, on the part of the United States, and Barboncito, Armijo, and other Chiefs and Headmen of the Navajo tribe of Indians, on the part of said Indians, and duly authorized thereto by them, which Treaty is in the words and figures following, to wit:

June 1, 1868
15 Stat. L. 667.

Ratified July 25, 1868.

Proclaimed Aug. 12, 1868

Articles of a treaty and agreement made and entered into at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, on the first day of June, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight, by and between the United States, represented by its commissioners, Lieutenant General W. T. Sherman and Colonel Samuel F. Tappan, of the one part, and the Navajo Nation or tribe of Indians, represented by their chiefs and head-men, duly authorized and empowered to act for the whole people of said nation or tribe, (the names of said chiefs and head-men being hereto subscribed), of the other part, witness:



Peace and friendship

ARTICLE 1. From this day forward all war between the parties to this agreement shall forever cease. The Government of the United States desires peace, and its honor is hereby pledged to keep it. The Indians desire peace, and they now pledge their honor to keep it.



Offenders among the whites to be arrested and punished.

If bad men among the whites, or among other people subject to the authority of the United States, shall commit any wrong upon the person or property of the Indians, the United States will, upon proof made to the agent and forwarded to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington City, proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also to reimburse the injured persons for the loss sustained.



Offenders among the Indians to be given up to the United States.

Rules for ascertaining damages.

If the bad men among the Indians shall commit a wrong or depredation upon the person or property of any one, white, black, or Indian, subject to the authority of the United States and at peace therewith, the Navajo tribe agree that they will, on proof made to their agent, and on notice by him, deliver up the wrongdoer to the United States, to be tried and punished according to its laws; and in case they willfully refuse so to do, the person injured shall be reimbursed for his loss from the annuities or other moneys due or to become due to them under this treaty, or any others that may be made with the United States. And the President may prescribe such rules and regulations for ascertaining damages under this article as in his judgment may be proper; but no such damage shall be adjusted and paid until examined and passed upon by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and no one sustaining loss whilst violating, or because of his violating, the provisions of this treaty or the laws of the United States, shall be reimbursed therefore.



Reservation boundaries.
Who not to reside thereon.

ARTICLE 2. The United States agrees that the following district of country, to wit: bounded on the north by the 37th degree of north latitude, south by an east and west line passing through the site of old Fort Defiance, in Canon Bonito, east by the parallel of longitude which, if prolonged south, would pass through Old Fort Lyon or the Ojo-de-oso, Bear Spring, and west by a parallel of longitude about 109 degree 30' west of Greenwich, provided it embraces the outlet of the Canon-de-Chilly, which canon is to be all included in this reservation, shall be, and the same is hereby, set apart for the use and occupation of the Navajo tribe of Indians, and for such other friendly tribes or individual Indians as from time to time they may be willing, with the consent of the United States, to admit among them; and the United States agrees that no persons except those herein so authorized to do, and except such officers, soldiers, agents, and employees of the Government, or of the Indians, as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties imposed by law, or the orders of the President, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in, the territory described in the article.



Buildings to be erected by the United States.

ARTICLE 3. The United States agrees to cause to be built, at some point within said reservation, where timber and water may be convenient, the following buildings: a warehouse, to cost not exceeding twenty-five hundred dollars; an agency building for the residence of the agent, not to cost exceeding three thousand dollars; a carpenter-shop and blacksmith-shop, not to cost exceeding one thousand dollars each; and a schoolhouse and chapel, so soon as a sufficient number of children can be induced to attend school, which shall not cost to exceed five thousand dollars.



Agent to make his home and reside where.

ARTICLE 4. The United States agrees that the agent for the Navajos shall make his home at the agency building; that he shall reside among them, and shall keep an office open at all times for the purpose of prompt and diligent inquiry into such matters of complaint by or against the Indians as may be presented for investigation, as also for the faithful discharge of other duties enjoined by law. In all cases of depredation on person or property he shall cause the evidence to be taken in writing and forwarded, together with his finding, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, whose decision shall be binding on the parties to this treaty.



Heads of family desiring to commence farming may select lands, etc.

Effect of such selection.

ARTICLE 5. If any individual belonging to said tribe, or legally incorporated with it, being the head of a family, shall desire to commence farming, he shall have the privilege to select, in the presence and with the assistance of the agent then in charge, a tract of land within said reservation, not exceeding one hundred and sixty acres in extent, which tract, when so selected, certified, and recorded in the "land book" as herein described, shall cease to be held in common, but the same may be occupied and held in the exclusive possession of the person selecting it, and of his family, so long a she or they may continue to cultivate it.



Persons not heads of families.

Any person over eighteen years of age, not being the head of a family, may in like manner select, and cause to be certified to him or her for purposes of cultivation, a quantity of land, not exceeding eight acres in extent, and thereupon be entitled to the exclusive possession of the same as above directed.



Certificates of selection to be delivered, etc., To be recorded.

For each tract of land so selected a certificate containing a description thereof, and the name of the person selecting it, with a certificate endorsed thereon, that the same has been recorded, shall be delivered to the party entitled to it by the agent, after the same shall have been recorded by him in a book to be kept in his office, subject to inspect, which said book shall be known as the "Navajo Land Book."




The President may at any time order a survey of the reservation, and when so surveyed, Congress shall provide for protecting the rights of said settlers in their improvements, and may fix the character of the title held by each.



Alienation and descent of property.

The United States may pass such laws on the subject of alienation and descent of property between the Indians and their descendants as may be thought proper.



The Navajo People must give up the education of their children, between the ages of 6 and 16, to the white man (by attending school).
Duty of agent.
Schoolhouses and teachers.

ARTICLE 6. In order to insure the civilization of the Indians entering into this treaty, the necessity of education is admitted, especially of such of them as may be settle on said agricultural parts of this reservation, and they therefore pledge themselves to compel their children, male and female, between the ages of six and sixteen years, to attend school; and it is hereby made the duty of the agent for said Indians to see that this stipulation is strictly complied with; and the United States agrees that, for every thirty children between said ages who can be induced or compelled to attend school, a house shall be provided, and a teacher competent to teach the elementary branches of an English education shall be furnished, who will reside among said Indians, and faithfully discharge his or her duties as a teacher. The provisions of this article to continue for not less than ten years.



Seeds and agricultural implements.

ARTICLE 7. When the head of a family shall have selected lands and received his certificate as above directed, and the agent shall be satisfied that he intends in good faith to commence cultivating the soil for a living, he shall be entitle to receive seeds and agricultural implements for the first year, not exceeding in value one hundred dollars, and for each succeeding year he shall continue to farm, for a period of two years, he shall be entitled to receive seeds and implements to the value of twenty-five dollars.



Delivery of articles in lieu of money and annuities.

ARTICLE 8. In lieu of all sums of money or other annuities provided to be paid to the Indians herein named under any treaty or treaties heretofore made, the United States agrees to deliver at the agency house on the reservation herein named, on the first day of September of each year for ten years, the following articles, to wit:



Indians to be furnished with no articles they can make.
Clothing, etc.

Such articles of clothing, goods, or raw materials in lieu thereof, as the agent may make his estimate for, not exceeding in value five dollars per Indian--each Indian being encouraged to manufacture their own clothing, blankets, etc.; to be furnished with no article which they can manufacture themselves. And, in order that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs may be able to estimate properly for the articles herein named, it shall be the duty of the agent each year to forward to him a full and exact census of the Indians, on which the estimate for year to year can be based.



Annual appropriation in money for ten years.
May be changed.
Army officer to attend delivery of goods.

And in addition to the articles herein named, the sum of ten dollars for each person entitled to the beneficial effects of this treaty shall be annually appropriated for a period of ten years, for each person who engages in farming or mechanical pursuits, to be used by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in the purchase of such articles as from time to time the condition and necessities of the Indians may indicate to be proper; and if within the ten years at any time it shall appear that the amount of money needed for clothing, under the article, can be appropriated to better uses for the Indians named herein, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs may change the appropriation to other purposes, but in no event shall the amount of this appropriation be withdrawn or discontinued for the period named, provided they remain at peace. And the President shall annually detail an officer of the army to be present and attest the delivery of all the goods herein named to the Indians, and he shall inspect and report on the quantity and quality of the goods and the manner of their delivery.



Stipulations by the Indians as to outside territory.

ARTICLE 9. In consideration of the advantages and benefits conferred by this treaty, and the many pledges of friendship by the United States, the tribes who are parties to this agreement hereby stipulate that they will relinquish all right to occupy any territory outside their reservation, as herein defined, but retain the right to hunt on any unoccupied lands contiguous to their reservation, so long as the large game may range thereon in such numbers as to justify the chase; and they, the said Indians, further expressly agree:




1st. That they will make no opposition to the construction of railroads now being built or hereafter to be built across the continent.



2d. That they will not interfere with the peaceful construction of any railroad not passing over their reservation as herein defined.



Residents, travelers, wagon trains.

3d. That they will not attack any persons at home or traveling nor molest or disturb any wagon trains, coaches, mules, or cattle belonging to the people of the United States, or to persons friendly therewith.



Women and children.

4th. That they will never capture or carry off from the settlements women or children.




5th. They will never kill or scalp white men, nor attempt to do them harm.



Roads or stations.

6th. They will not in future oppose the construction of railroads, wagon roads, mail stations, or other works of utility or necessity which may be ordered or permitted by the laws of the United States; but should such roads or other works be constructed on the lands of their reservation, the government will pay the tribe whatever amount of damage may be assessed by three disinterested commissioners to be appointed by the President for that purpose, one of said commissioners to be a chief or head man of the tribe.



Military posts and roads.

7th. They will make no opposition to the military posts or roads now established, or that may be established, not in violation of treaties heretofore made or hereafter to be made with any of the Indian tribes.



Cession of reservation not to be valid unless, etc.

ARTICLE 10. No future treaty for the cession of any portion or part of the reservation herein described, which may be held in common, shall be of any validity or force against said Indians unless agreed to and executed by at least three-fourths of all the adult male Indians occupying or interested in the same; and no cession by the tribe shall be understood or construed in such manner as to deprive, without his consent, any individual member of the tribe of his rights to any tract of land selected by him provided in article 5 of this treaty.



Indians to go to reservation when required.

ARTICLE 11. The Navajos also hereby agree that at any time after the signing of these presents they will proceed in such manner as may be required of them by the agent, or by the officer charged with their removal, to the reservation herein provided for, the United States paying for their subsistence en route, and providing a reasonable amount of transportation for the sick and feeble.



Appropriations, how to be disbursed.

ARTICLE 12. It is further agreed by and between the parties to this agreement that the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars appropriated or to be appropriated shall be disbursed as follows, subject to any condition provided in the law, to wit:




1st. The actual cost of the removal of the tribe from the Bosque Redondo reservation to the reservation, say fifty thousand dollars.



Sheep and goats.

2d. The purchase of fifteen thousand sheep and goats, at a cost not to exceed thirty thousand dollars.



Cattle and corn.

3d. The purchase of five hundred beef cattle and a million pounds of corn, to be collected and held at the military post nearest the reservation, subject to the orders of the agent, for the relief of the needy during the coming winter.




4th. The balance, if any, of the appropriation to be invested for the maintenance of the Indians pending their removal, in such manner as the agent who is with them may determine.



Removal, how made.

5th. The removal of this tribe to be made under the supreme control and direction of the military commander of the Territory of New Mexico, and when completed, the management of the tribe to revert to the proper agent.



Penalty for leaving reservation.

ARTICLE 13. The tribe herein named, by their representatives, parties to this treaty, agree to make the reservation herein described their permanent home, and they will not as a tribe make any permanent settlement elsewhere, reserving the right to hunt on the lands adjoining the said reservation formerly called theirs, subject to the modifications named in this treaty and the orders of the commander or the department in which said reservation may be for the time being; and it is further agreed and understood by the parties to this treaty, that if any Navajo Indian or Indians shall leave the reservation herein described to settle elsewhere, he or they shall forfeit all the rights, privileges, and annuities conferred by the terms of this treaty; and it is further agreed by the parties to this treaty, that they will do all they can to induced Indians now away from reservation set apart for the exclusive use and occupation of the Indians, leading a nomadic life, or engaged in war against the people of the United States, to abandon such a life and settle permanently in one of the territorial reservations set apart for the exclusive use and occupation of the Indians.



In testimony of all which the said parties have hereunto, on this the first day of June, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight, at Fort Sumner, in the Territory of New Mexico, set their hands and seals.



The goal of Indian education from the 1880s through the 1920s was to assimilate Indian people into the melting pot of America by placing them in institutions where traditional ways could be replaced by those sanctioned by the government. Federal Indian policy called for the removal of children from their families and enrollment in a government-run boarding school. In this way, the policy makers believed, young people would 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.

The Indian boarding school movement began in the post Civil War era. Whereas before many Americans regarded the native people with either fear or loathing, the reformers believed that with the proper education and treatment Indians could become just like other citizens. They convinced the leaders of Congress that education could change at least some of the Indian population into patriotic and productive members of society. One of the first efforts to accomplish this goal was the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, founded by Captain Richard Henry Pratt in 1879. Pratt was a leading proponent of the assimilation through education policy. Believing that Indian ways were inferior to those of whites, he subscribed to the principle, “kill the Indian and save the man.” At Carlisle, young Indian boys and girls were subjected to a complete transformation. Photographs taken at the school illustrate how they looked “before” and “after.” The dramatic contrast between traditional clothing and hairstyles and Victorian styles of dress helped convince the public that through boarding school education Indians could become completely “civilized.” Following the model of Carlisle, additional off reservation boarding schools were established in other parts of the country,

Seeking to educate increasing numbers of Indian children at lower cost, the federal government established two other types of schools: the reservation boarding school and day schools. Reservation boarding schools had the advantage of being closer to Indian communities and as a result had lower transportation costs. Contact between students and their families was restricted as students remained at the school for eight to nine months of the year. Relatives could visit briefly at prescribed times. School administrators worked constantly to keep the students at school and eradicate all vestiges of their tribal cultures. Day schools, which were the most economical, usually provided only a minimal education. They worked with the boarding schools by transferring students for more advanced studies.

On many reservations, missionaries operated schools that combined religious with academic training. At these missionary run schools, traditional religious and cultural practices were strongly discouraged while instruction in the Christian doctrines took place. Some missionary schools received federal support, particularly at times when Congress felt less inclined to provide the large sums of money needed to establish government schools.

The national system of Indian education continued to expand at the turn of the century. All federal boarding schools, whether on or off reservation, shared certain characteristics. The Bureau of Indian Affairs issued directives that were followed by superintendents throughout the nation. Even the architecture and landscaping appeared similar from one institution to the next. Common features included a military style regimen, a strict adherence to English language only. A standardized curriculum for Indian schools emphasized vocational training and gave primary importance to learning manual skills.

A typical daily schedule at a boarding school began with an early wake-up call followed by a series of tasks punctuated by the ringing of bells. Students were required to march from one activity to the next. Conformity to rules and regulations was strongly encouraged. The foremost requirement for assimilation into American society, authorities felt, was mastery of the English language. Students were prohibited from speaking their native languages and those caught doing so were severely punished. Later, many former students regretted that they lost the ability to speak their native language fluently because of the years they spent in boarding school.

The boarding schools had what came to be called the “half and half” system where students spent half of the day in the classroom and half at a work assignment on the school grounds. The academic curriculum included courses in US history, geography, language, arithmetic, reading, writing and spelling. Young women spent either the morning or the afternoon doing laundry, sewing, cooking, cleaning and other household tasks. Older girls might study nursing or office work. The young men acquired skills in carpentry, blacksmithing, animal husbandry, baking and shop. They chopped firewood to keep the steam boilers operating. The work performed by students was essential to the operation of the institution. The meat, vegetables and milk served in the dining room came from livestock and gardens kept by the students. The girls made and repaired uniforms, sheets, and curtains and helped to prepare the meals.

Mandatory education for Indian children became law in 1893 and thereafter agents on the reservations received instructions on how to enforce the federal regulation. If parents refused to send their children to school the authorities could withhold annuities or rations or send them to jail. Some parents were uncomfortable having their children sent far away from home. The educators had quotas to fill, however, and considerable pressure was exerted on Indian families to send their youngsters to boarding schools beginning when the child was six years old. Fear and loneliness caused by this early separation from family is a common experience shared by all former students. Once their children were enrolled in a distant school, parents lost control over decisions that affected them. For example, requests for holiday leave could be denied by the superintendent for almost any reason.

For some students, the desire for freedom and the pull of their family combined with strong discontent caused them to run away. Punishment of runaways was usually harsh, as the offenders became examples held up before their fellow students. Illness was another serious problem at the boarding schools. Crowded conditions and only the basic medical care contributed to the spread of diseases such as measles, influenza and tuberculosis. Death was not uncommon.

The Merriam Report on Indian education was issued in 1928, revealing glaring deficiencies in the boarding schools, including poor diet, overcrowding, below-standard medical service, excessive labor by the students and substandard teaching. In 1933, President Roosevelt appointed John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The 1930s and 1940s began to witness changes in federal Indian policy, among which was a shift in educational philosophy. Classroom lessons could now reflect the diversity of Indian cultures. States assumed more control over Indian education as more children enrolled in public schools. There was a general consensus that the imposition of white cultural values upon the Indian societies was at the root of the problem.



Richard Henry Pratt was an army officer and founder of Carlisle Indian School. After service in the Civil War, Pratt applied for a commission in the regular army and was appointed second lieutenant in the newly organized Tenth United States Cavalry, composed of black enlisted men with white officers. At Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory, Pratt was promoted to first lieutenant and began his long association with the American Indian when he was placed in charge of the regiment's Indian scouts. Pratt took part in the Washita campaign of 1868 and over the next several years saw duty at Fort Sill and Camp Supply, as his unit sought to maintain order on the government Indian reservations.

In the spring of 1873 he was transferred to Fort Griffin, in Texas, where he was given command of the Tonkawa scouts in addition to his Tenth Cavalry troop. When the Red River War broke out, Pratt was among those who pursued Grey Beard's scattered Cheyenne warriors for ninety-six miles to the Canadian River. As more Indian leaders surrendered to federal authorities, Pratt was assigned the task of drawing up a list of the bands that came in and singling out individuals accused of specific crimes.

In May 1875 Pratt was detailed to escort seventy-two leading Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Arapaho prisoners to Fort Marion, the old Spanish fortress at St. Augustine, Florida, for a period of exile. There he began experimenting with his ideas of bringing his charges into the white man's world through education, financial aid, and teaching assistance from local residents. By the time the army had the Indians released in 1878, Pratt sought to continue the schooling of his “best” students in the East. He persuaded General Armstrong to admit seventeen Indians into the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, an all-black school in Virginia, with himself as an instructor. Pratt appealed to Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz for permission to establish a government Indian school at the abandoned army barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The support of Schurz and Secretary of War George McCrary led to the opening of the Carlisle Indian School in October 1879, with eighty-two Sioux pupils recruited from the Upper Missouri agencies in Dakota Territory.

For the next twenty-five years Pratt served as superintendent of the school, which received official recognition from Congress in 1882. He applied the principles of his Methodist upbringing to the school curriculum, in the belief that Indians could be assimilated into the mainstream of white American life. To achieve that goal, Pratt felt that the Indian should be isolated from his old tribal environment. The course at Carlisle combined academic studies, eventually extending through the first two years of high school, with vocational training in various fields and the "outing" system, which placed students in white homes and jobs for a year to further their assimilation. The institution grew steadily over the years, and throughout his superintendency Pratt had charge of some 5,000 Indian pupils from over seventy tribes. Carlisle was the model for the boarding schools that were later established on or near reservations throughout the West.

It was the location issue that gradually brought Pratt into conflict with the Indian Bureau and humanitarian organizations concerned with the Indians' welfare. Contrary to his argument for assimilation, federal policy served to continue the segregation of Indians on the increasingly squalid reservations. Pratt was forced to retire from the army in 1903, and dismissed from Carlisle for insubordination in 1904.

Carlisle Indian School continued for over a decade and was famous for its formidable football teams. Jim Thorpe, All-American and Olympic gold medalist in 1912, was its most famous athlete. However, the Indian Bureau closed the school in 1918, when the army reactivated Carlisle Barracks as a hospital.



When World War I broke out in 1914, thousands of Navajo men and women volunteered their services to the war efforts. They fought overseas in France, Germany, and Italy and received numerous awards and decorations for outstanding duty; many were cited for bravery under fire. A large number of Navajo women on the Navajo Reservation were active in Red Cross.

When the United States entered World War II in 1941, the Navajos again played a crucial role. It is estimated that more than 3,600 young Navajo men and women joined the armed forces and over 10,000 Navajos went to work in the military factories during World War II. Proportionately, that figure represents one of the highest percentages of total population in the armed service of any ethnic group in the United States—even though Navajos were not given the right to vote in Arizona until 1948, in New Mexico until 1953, and in Utah until 1957.

A special group of Navajos were formed during World War II called the Code Talkers. The Navajo code talkers took part in every assault the US Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. They served in all six Marine divisions, Marine Raider battalions and Marine parachute units, transmitting messages by telephone and radio in their native language: a code that the Japanese never broke.

The idea to use Navajo for secure communications came from Philip Johnston, the son of a missionary to the Navajos and one of the few non-Navajos who spoke their language fluently. Johnston was a World War I veteran who knew of the military's search for an unbreakable code and believed that Navajo answered their requirements. Its complex syntax, complicated tonal qualities and dialects make it unintelligible to anyone without extensive exposure and training. Navajo is an unwritten language with no alphabet or symbols. One estimate indicates that less than 30 non-Navajos, none of them Japanese, could understand the language at the outbreak of World War II.

Early in 1942, Johnston staged tests under simulated combat conditions, demonstrating that Navajos could encode, transmit, and decode a three-line English message in 20 seconds. Machines of the time required 30 minutes to perform the same job. In May 1942, the first 29 Navajo recruits attended boot camp and created the Navajo code. They developed a dictionary and numerous words for military terms. The dictionary and all code words had to be memorized during training. Once a Navajo code talker completed his training, he was sent to a Marine unit deployed in the Pacific. The code talkers' primary job was to talk, transmitting information on tactics and troop movements, orders and other vital battlefield communications. They also acted as messengers, and performed general Marine duties.
Praise for their skill, speed and accuracy accrued throughout the war. At Iwo Jima, Major Howard Connor declared, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” Connor had six Navajo code talkers working nonstop during the first two days of the battle. Those six sent and received over 800 messages, all without error.

When a code talker received a message, what he heard was a string of seemingly unrelated Navajo words. The code talker first had to translate each Navajo word into its English equivalent. Then he used only the first letter of the English equivalent in spelling an English word. Most letters had more than one Navajo word representing them. Not all words had to be spelled out letter by letter. The developers of the original code assigned Navajo words to represent about 450 frequently used military terms that did not exist in the Navajo language.

In 1942, there were about 50,000 Navajo tribe members. As of 1945, about 540 Navajos served as Marines. From 375 to 420 of those trained as code talkers. Nearly every Navajo has some connection to a Navajo code talker.

Navajo remained potentially valuable as code even after the war. For that reason, the code talkers earned no public recognition until 2001. 56 years after the end of World War II, the original 29 code talkers who developed and initiated the Navajo code were given the Gold Congressional Medal of Honor in Washington, DC. Only 5 were alive and only 4 were able to attend. Later that year, the other approximately 400 code talkers were given the Silver Congressional Medal of Honor in Window Rock, AZ. Few Navajo code talkers were alive to attend. Instead, many family members of deceased code talkers accepted their medals.

Other American Indians, including the Sioux, Choctaw, and Comanche, also used their native languages as a code during World Wars I and II, and yet have not so far been honored with any type of medal recognition.



Any description of Native Americans must begin with a reminder of a historical condition that continues to shape Native American societies even today. Native Americans, originally, were the entire American population. As such, they developed an amazing variety of linguistic and cultural traditions. Today, they represent half of the nation's languages and cultures, although they make up less than 1% of the U.S. total. This diversity within a small population must be kept in mind, always.

Although many tribal traditions are at risk of dying out, Indians as a group are a growing population. Some 1,959,000 people claimed American Indian status on the 1990 Census form, representing about 500 tribes in the U.S.; of these tribes, 308 are recognized by the federal government. Along with the 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Natives, over 5 million Americans indicated on their Census forms that they were of Indian descent.

Of the 1.9 million, about 637,000 are living on reservations or Trust Lands. A minimum of 252,000 Native Americans lived in cities in 1990. More than half of the Native American population in 1990 lived in the following six states: Oklahoma (252,000), California (242,000), Arizona (204,000), New Mexico (134,000), Alaska (86,000), and Washington state (81,000). One reservation dominates all others in population--the Navajo reservation that occupies parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah has 143,000 residents. The next largest reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) people, is Pine Ridge located in South Dakota, with 11,000. Of the 500 tribes and bands in the nation, 10 made up half of the Indian population in 1980.

From 1980 to 1990, Native Americans increased their numbers by 54 percent. The Indian Health Service has played a role in reducing infant mortality, from 60 deaths per 1,000 births from 1955 to 10 in 1985. Unfortunately, despite some reduction in alcoholism rates, the death rate from alcohol-related causes is still 3 times higher among Indians than the general population. This rate includes deaths due to fetal alcohol syndrome and drug- and alcohol-related accidents, suicides, and criminal offenses. Of all treatment services provided by the Indian Health Service in 1988, 70 percent were alcohol-related.

A Native American who wants a middle class job will likely have to leave the reservation. This circumstance may account, in part, for the movement of Indians to metro areas.

The notorious boarding schools, which took Indian children from their families and tribes and attempted to make Anglos out of them, are now mainly gone. More Indian youth are enrolled in schools that are either run by tribal leadership or in which tribal views are important to decision-making. Many public schools on or near reservations are becoming increasingly responsive to the special needs of the 391,000 Indians in elementary and secondary education. In some cases, the local tribal language and culture are taught at school, which is a major reversal of the previous attempts to eliminate Indian language and culture. Indian parents are becoming increasingly involved in school activities, including holding offices as school board members. Many expect these improvements will help young Indians take pride in their language and cultural traditions, which should be important in increasing the number of youth who attend college.

There has been a major increase in college attendance, indicated by the increase in the numbers of Natives taking the SAT: from 2,662 in 1976 to 18,000 in 1989. Of the 103,000 Natives who were in college in 1990, about half were in two-year colleges and half in four-year. The 24 Tribal Colleges, most of which offer two-year programs, have rapidly increasing enrollments. Many Native students do not take the courses required for college admission, particularly in math and science. Several associations currently encourage Indian youth to aspire to higher education, such as the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.

Many of the problems faced by Native Americans can be traced back to the conflicts between their desire to perpetuate their cultural heritage and the pressure to assimilate into the larger society. A complicating factor for Native Americans is that there is an incredible diversity of cultures that falls into the category of Native American: rather than preserving one language and way of life, they must preserve hundreds of complete cultures. This is a period of great possibilities for Native Americans. After centuries of misinformation, the average American has now gained a limited knowledge about the historical mistreatment of Natives, the importance of treaty rights, and the differences in world views between Americans of European descent and Native Americans.

The following activities are designed and adaptable for students of all levels, in accordance with the Washington State standards for history and social studies. They aim to explore the issues and events of this production through a dynamic, hands-on approach. Students may address the following topics and questions through any of the suggested mediums or a combination of them:
Writing: write a story, a poem, a report, an article, a scene, a play, a song, a caption

Art: draw or paint a picture; create a collage, a sculpture, a comic strip; take a photograph; make a video

Drama: create a still image, a dance or movement activity, a series of images, an improvisation, a scene, a play

Discussion: partner or small group talk, oral report or presentation

  1. Supplement a specific scene in the script with work in another medium.

  1. Supplement a specific image from the video with work in another medium.

  1. Interview a character from the piece.

  1. Research historical documents to find a real person’s description of an experience from Alice’s story (i.e. being taken/going to boarding school, enlisting or serving in the military as a code talker or a nurse during World War II). Share what you learn.

  1. Read and explore selections from other fictional or first person perspectives (see bibliography for suggestions).

  1. Read and respond to a piece of art or writing by a Native American.

  1. Re-create a scene from the piece from another character’s point of view (i.e. Carl’s perspective on being a code talker, the perspective of a student who tried to run away on being at boarding school).

  1. Research another event in history and how it is related to this one.

  1. Explore how the experiences of Navajos or another Native American tribe are/were similar to or different from other ethnic groups or American immigrants from other countries.

  1. Choose a part of Alice’s story that you’d like to know more about and research it. Share what you learn.

  1. Explore a typical day in the life of a student at a Native American boarding school. Compare it to a day in your life at school or to another student from that time period.

  1. Research the current activities and issues of a local tribe.

  1. Imagine you could get in touch with Alice. What would you want to tell her or show her about the future?

  1. How did watching Native Vision make you feel?

Supplemental drama activities:
Role-on-the-wall: a character is represented in the form of an outline of a person, on which the group writes or draws information about that character: on the inside of the figure is written what the character thinks or feels about herself; on the outside, how she appears or how others perceive her. This activity can be repeated for multiple characters, including other fictional or real-life people. This activity can be used as a jumping point for further discussion and exploration of character choices, motivation, perceptions and prejudices.

Still images/tableaux: Image work can be used to explore any theme, idea or topic. It can be literal or symbolic, can depict actual events from the piece or imaginary ones, and can also focus on different points of view. Students may then select characters from the images to interview or scenes to bring to life or explore further in other ways.

Voices in the Head: students form two lines facing each other to make a path for Alice as she leaves for boarding school or the Navy, or Carl as he leaves for war. As the character passes through (played by the teacher, a student or series of students), students creating the path offer a piece of advice. Alternately, or in addition, they may speak as their family, friends, acquaintances or personal thoughts and feelings.
Forum Theatre:

a. In partners or small groups, students share personal experiences of prejudice or discrimination.

b. For each personal story, students work separately to create their image of the situation (images may be visual or dramatic). The images are then shown to the whole group to compare and discuss.

c. Situations are selected and played as improvisations, in which other members of the group can freeze the scene at a crucial moment, take on the role of the main character and experiment with different ways the scene could have happened.


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