Unearthing the “horrors” of the Indian school of Tulalip

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In 1915, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs decreed a new training plan which “placed strong emphasis on vocational training”. The rules required boys to take courses in agriculture, dairy farming, carpentry, blacksmithing, engineering, masonry, painting, and shoe and harness repair. Girls took compulsory lessons in cooking, sewing, laundry, nursing, poultry raising and gardening.

That year, 269 students at Tulalip Indian School lived on the Carlisle schedule. The boys spent half of each day clearing the land and chopping firewood. The girls served meals to their classmates and worked in the hospital.

“In almost all boarding schools, one will find children of 10, 11 and 12 years of age spending four hours a day in more or less heavy industrial work – dairy, cooking, laundry, shop,” reads Lewis Meriam’s comprehensive report on the living conditions in the United States. Indians in 1928. “Work is bad for children of this age, especially physically malnourished children; most of it is in no way educational, since the operations are large-scale and have little to do with domestic or industrial life outside; and it is certainly unsatisfactory even from the point of view of the execution of the work.

The half-day plan was necessary, the report says, “not because it can be defended for health or educational reasons, because it cannot, but because the little money allocated for food and clothing makes the use of child labor necessary”.

As a result, children left school remarkably well prepared for manual labor or military service – they marched daily online, as in boot camps – but the focus of their education was not academic.

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