The colonists wanted to expand west into the territory of the Native Americans but they did not have plans to do this politely. In order to get the land, the colonists took desperate measures to accomplish their conquest leading to the cruel treatment of the Native American people. They began to assimilate the Native Americans in a number of ways like taking the young children to educate, setting them up in low jobs, sending them to war, and even trying to convert them to Christianity. Zitkala Sa writings Impression of an Indian Childhood and “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” present examples of some of the ways that the Native American people were forced to conform to the ways of the colonists.
The most common tactic used by the colonists in order to assimilate the young Native American children was to remove them from their tribes and educated them in boarding schools. In both Impressions of an Indian Childhood and “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” Sa writes about how each of the main characters are taken from their families to be educated among the ways of the colonists, ways that these Native Americans would be taken advantage of. Sarah L. Surface-Evans writes, “Federal Indian boarding schools were instituted … to forcefully assimilate American Indian children into mainstream United States society” (Surface-Evans 1). The goal of these schools was “to strip American Indian children of their language, customs and religion,” (Surface-Evans 1). The colonists claimed to want to help and give the Native Americans better education by taking the children and giving them a better chance than what their parents had. In reality the children would be working low level jobs such as farming and other domestic labor (Surface-Evans 1). The children, once adults, would be working in the lower class for the colonists because the lower jobs were all they were taught to do. This was so that the Native Americans would remain under the control of the colonists and the colonists would receive low-cost labor.
The Native American children were not being taught without bias. They were taught within their gender so that they learned from boarding school that “the boys performed the farm labor, providing milk, eggs, meat, and produce” while the “girls were trained in basic skills to work as domestic servants (sewing, cooking, and nursing)” (Surface-Evans 4). Because of this limited teaching, it was all they could do. The Native Americans would leave the schools without the equal education of the colonists limiting their jobs to farm worker and servant. This was done so that they could blend the Native Americans into the colonists’ society while keeping them in lower level class in poverty and the colonists keeping themselves at the higher-class paying jobs.
Another example of a cruel strategies the colonists used to assimilate the Native Americans, was to use them as soldiers in the First World War. Chris Rein writes, “Indian allies service with the army became part of a larger campaign of assimilation and acculturation” this is because they were only thought of as power to win the war (Rein 1). The colonists did not care if the Native Americans lived or died in their aid to the war, they just saw them as more ammunition in the battle. After this war, in no time the Native Americans were so assimilated that they were said to be “indistinguishable from [the] countrymen in uniform” (Rein 1). This made the Native Americans even more so assimilated that when returning to their tribe they would be turned away but the colonists did not care if the “educated” Native Americans were no longer accepted by their tribes.
These children, now adults are manipulated to do the work that the colonists do not wish to do. They send these “educated” adults back to the tribes as an attempt to “civilize” the older generations of Native Americans by trying to convert them to Christianity but they are only seen as traitors to their people. This is something the young man in “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” experiences as he is called a traitor by a member of his tribe, “‘What loyal son is he who, returning to his father’s people, wears a foreigner’s dress?’… ‘Here is the traitor to his people!” (Sa 649). This is a cruel pain that the Native Americans must encounter as they feel the disapproval of the people of their tribe and then to feel the disapproval again going back to the colonists without any converts. When rejected by both their tribe and the people who taught them this new way of life who else are these “educated” Native Americans to turn to. In the ending of “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” the young man left in a similar situation to this and his only choice left was death, “I do not fear death. Yet I wonder who shall come to welcome me in the realm of strange sight” (Sa 651). Even in his moment of dying the Native American is left in confliction of the two beliefs, will he be meet with a free spirit or with the love of God.
Zitkala Sa writes Impressions of an Indian Childhood and “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” as examples to describe the cruelty the Native Americans experienced because of the colonists who assimilated them in order to get their land they wanted for themselves. Sa writes this to reach the minds of those who are unaware of the cruelty that occurred in the conquest of land between the colonists and the Native American people. In a quote obtained by Chris Rein, presented by a Cherokee missionary states, “the full-bloods remembered only too well how the Georgians had treated them and they would never trust their former enemies [the Confederacy] to abide by any treaty” (Rein 4). While things are no longer as vivid and horrific as this Cherokee missionary describes there are still wrongs that are being made toward Native Americans. In present day, the Native American people still receive a lack in the respect they deserve from other parties of race. Because of the assimilation of the Native American people their population is less than what it should be and their rights are still very minimal sending them to live on reservations under poor conditions.
Rein, Chris. “The U.S. Army, Indian Agency, and the Path to Assimilation: The First Indian Home Guards in the American Civil War.” Kansas History, vol. 36, no. 1, Spring 2013, pp. 2–21. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=87082925&site=ehost-live.
Sa, Zitkala. “The Soft-Hearted Sioux.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 647–651.
Sa, Zitkala. “From Impressions of an Indian Childhood.”The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013, pp. 639–646.
Surface-Evans, Sarah. “A Landscape of Assimilation and Resistance: The Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology, vol. 20, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 574–588. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10761-016-0362-5.