Indians to gather at Carlisle school

Site is infamous for high rate of deaths among students

May 21, 2000|By ASCRIBE NEWS

SWARTHMORE, Pa. -- "Pow-wow 2000: Remembering Carlisle Indian School" will take place over Memorial Day weekend on the site of the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa., now the home of the U.S. Army War College. This gathering of alumni and their descendants of the country's first off-reservation boarding school for Native American children will be the largest ever of its kind and will draw people from all over country, says Swarthmore College instructor of English Michelle Hermann.

Many of the school's students wrote memoirs based on their experiences, and Hermann uses those texts in her classes on Native American literature. Hermann also organizes trips for Swarthmore students, and staff and faculty members to visit the school grounds. "The Carlisle school was the model on which all other off-reservation boarding schools were based," she says. "Many people will be surprised that the school's alumni and their descendants are still alive."

Jim Thorpe is alumnus

Sports legend Jim Thorpe is among the most famous of the school's alumni, and his daughter Grace Thorpe is one of the featured guests at Powwow 2000. Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday is the event's keynote speaker, and additional activities include singing, dancing, and honoring and healing ceremonies.

According to Hermann, the Carlisle school, one of a few dozen boarding schools around the country, is the most infamous. "Students died at a much higher rate at the Carlisle school than they did at other boarding schools," she says. "You can still feel the overwhelming suffering that happened, so this site has a lot of emotional significance."

Hermann says the operation of a school on a site used almost exclusively for military purposes, before the school's opening and after its closing, is not surprising.

`Treated as enemies'

"Indians have always been treated as enemies, or people not to be trusted," Hermann says, "so there has always been a military component to Indian-white relations. The school's first students were prisoners of the U.S. Army, and all students were given military uniforms. It may seem strange now, but given the history, it is not out of place at all."

About 12,000 students were recruited and taught at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which operated from 1879 to 1918. Almost as many students died at the school -- about 1,000 -- as graduated.

Swarthmore, near Philadelphia, is a liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,400; it is ranked the No. 1 liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

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