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Essay On Assimilation By Sherman Alexie

Essay on Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

640 Words3 Pages

In the novel Reservation Blues, most of the characters struggle with their identity at some point. Victor has an especially strong urge to rebel against his Native American heritage, which is apparent in his violent, arrogant demeanor and his obvious problem with alcohol. Victor is tied to his past and has trouble coping with his life as it is, and is in a constant battle with himself, his surroundings, and other people. Early in the book, Victor is portrayed as somewhat of a bully, and he and Junior are even referred to as, "two of the most accomplished bullies of recent Native American history." (page 13) Victor's closest and most meaningful relationship in the book is his friendship with Junior. It's unclear why Junior…show more content…

While he may think that drinking is a way to escape being Native American, in actuality, it just perpetuates the cycle of alcoholism on the reservation. In the early stages of starting the band, it becomes clear that Victor will be the guitar player. Since Robert Johnson?s guitar seems to be somewhat evil, and maybe even possessed or cursed by the devil or the Gentleman, it makes sense that the guitar would end up in Victor?s hands. Victor?s playing of the guitar, along with the cuts and blisters on his hands, could be a sign of his slipping further away from his culture, and the eventual suffering and pain that will come from that. Rock and roll seems to be Victor?s escape from life on the reservation, and in his mind, the only way that he may ever escape it. However, it is mentioned that, ?Though they always pretended to be the toughest Indian men in the world, they suffered terrible bouts of homesickness as soon as they crossed the Spokane Indian Reservation border,? (page 61) which suggests that perhaps Victor is more attached to the reservation and Native American life than he seems to be.

When Victor was nine years old, he was molested by a priest at a Mission School. Because of his experience, he distrusts and avoids most aspects of the church. Religion plays little, if any, part in Victor?s life.

Throughout the book, it became clear that

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The historical relationship between the U.S. and Native Americans is long and complicated. To best understand Zits's inherent resentments towards white people, it is useful to contemplate the ways in which Native Americans have often felt patronized by U.S. culture. One fascinating story of this type is that of "assimilation through education."

Between 1790 and 1920, many attempts were made to assimilate Native Americans into mainstream U.S. culture. The concept of assimilation was proposed during the earliest days of the United States government. George Washington was an advocate of assimilation, and created policies to promote the Americanization of indigenous people. The thought process behind such initiatives was twofold. First, the wave of immigrants entering the Untied States after 1790 proved problematic. The government believed that new arrivals (and natives) would benefit from a centralized American culture, which could join together many different ethnic traditions. Second, a common religion and a standardized education would help to unite a country that was itself not quite stabilized.

After the Civil War, reformers created federally funded boarding schools for Native American children across the country. Policy makers at the time hoped that the early immersion of native born children would help them become “proper” and productive citizens. One of the first boarding schools was the Carlisle Indian School, established in 1879 in Pennsylvania. The founder, Henry Pratt, believed that education was key in order to “kill the Indian and save the man." This theory of the boarding school became know as "assimilation through education."

The boarding school model remained common until 1920. Native Americans either willingly sent their children (as young as six), or were coerced into compliance. Students, both male and female, were intermingled between tribes, forced to speak English, and wore mainstream American clothing. They were punished for speaking their native language, until many eventually lost the ability speak it fluently. Students would spend most of their year at the boarding schools, and were either forbidden or strongly discouraged from speaking to and visiting with their families. Those who tried to run away were publicly humiliated and whipped.

Daily life at the boarding school was strictly structured, almost militaristic in intensity. Students were prompted to perform various daily tasks by the ringing of bells. They woke to the musical call of the reveille, and went to sleep after taps. Half the day was dedicated to traditional academics lessons including geography, language, reading, writing, and arithmetic, while the rest of the day was spent learning a trade, commonly an agricultural one. Other skill sets were encouraged, such as carpentry, baking, nursing and secretarial work. Students also helped run the facilities. The male students cultivated crops and livestock, while the female students helped with household chores and prepared meals. Students marched everywhere, and were arranged in order of size and age. The severity of the structural system left little room for individual thought or growth; this became a major criticism after the 1920s.

Daily life at the boarding schools was also rife with danger. Sickness was especially prevalent, as measles, influenza, and tuberculosis caused frequent quarantines and occasional death. Cemeteries were erected on-site to accommodate the bodies of the children who died. Poor campus medical facilities aggravated the situation, while low funding prevented the schools from hiring extra help.

Despite these difficulties, many of the students gained considerable skills from their time at the boarding schools. Lasting friendships, and sometimes marriages, resulted from the community, and the skills students learned proved valuable in the workplace. Another benefit of the boarding schools was the access to electricity and running water, neither of which were usually available on the reservations. Students were also encouraged to play sports, and a deep enthusiasm for baseball and football arose amongst the boarding school generations. Many graduates of these programs went on to play semi-professionally.

By the 1920s, the collective thought on"assimilation through education" had changed. The boarding schools were deemed too expensive, while many students complained of poor diets, substandard teaching, overcrowding, and lack of quality medical care. Native American children were subsequently encouraged to attend public schools on or near their reservations. By 1923, many of the Indian boarding schools had closed, and a new generation of Native Americans began to assimilate to U.S. culture more or less on their own terms.