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Education: Cultural Hegemony and Critical Consciousness The Lac du Flambeau Curriculum

Cultural Hegemony

Cultural hegemony may be defined as the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class who manipulate the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and customs of that society so that their imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm.

Some of the tools through which this domination takes place are:

  • Government
  • Media
  • Language
  • Hollywood
  • Management of companies

Mission Schools

The first boarding schools were set up either by the government or Christian missionaries. Initially, the government forced many Indian families to send their children to boarding schools.

The goal of boarding schools was to assimilate Native Indian children into White Western culture and, importantly, to educate them into an agricultural, economic way of life that was compatible with the growing U.S. society.

The white supremacy of these authorities was so strong that they believed they were helping these children.

Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, the army captain who started the Carlisle, Pennsylvania mission school in 1879, coined the phrase to describe the process as follows:

“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man”—or completely assimilating Native people into the white man’s culture. “The aim was not to feed ‘our civilization to the Indians,’ stressed, but to feed ‘the Indians to our civilization”

Pfister, p.46

“I say to you what I do know, that two years, under proper training, is enough to give to a young Indian a sufficient knowledge of the English language, sufficient intelligence and sufficient industrial capacity to enable him to make himself acceptable, and even self-supporting as a part of our agricultural population; –aye, and properly trained, he will have the desire to do it…all our Indians need is broad and enlarged liberty of opportunity and training to make them, within the short space of a few years, a perfectly acceptable part of our population, and to remove them from a condition of dependence, pauperism and crime, to a truly civilized condition.”

Pratt’s address to the National Educational Convention, 1883

“Civilization is a habit,” (Pratt) frequently asserted. “Language is nothing but a habit. We aren’t born with language, nor are we born with ideas either of civilization or savagery. All these things are forced upon us by our environment after birth.”

p. 191 Elaine Goodale Eastman Pratt: The Red Man’s Moses

Pratt had a behaviorist view of human nature. He believed in

  • Complete immersion and assimilation into the dominant white culture (this would only take 2 years, in Pratt’s view)
  • Miscegenation
  • Resulting mixed offspring should be considered White and not be entitled to Indian “benefits”
  • He opposed the reservation system
  • He advocated transcultural adoption to avoid family problems (Indian families teaching their kids about s Native way of life)
  • “Undesirable cultural influences” should be removed from Indians

Boarding schools forbade Native American children from using their own languages and names, as well as from practicing their religion and culture.

Even today, English only policies and practices govern practice in many public schools across the nation.

Indians were given new Anglo-American names, clothes, and haircuts, and told they must abandon their way of life because it was inferior to White people’s.

The outcomes of boarding schools were complicated, as are the outcomes of all colonial impositions.

For many Indian students, the outcome was and remains a painful loss of language, culture and identity. For some, boarding schools resulted in greater resiliency, pan-Indian solidarity and subversion. Others learned about the white way of life and were able to manipulate it.

The Lac du Flambeau Public School

Lac du Flambeau had its own boarding school which we visited.

At LDF, in Ms. Jackson’s 8th grade social studies class she talked to the students about Black Friday and Thanksgiving. Both Black Friday and Thanksgiving are western traditions that are not usually celebrated by Natives.

This is more of the curriculums fault than the teachers fault. The curriculum is built for mainly white Americans and does not include other groups.

In one of the classrooms there was a sign that said “dinosaurs didn’t read now they are extinct”.

In an interview, Tom Maulson said “Information is passed on through language and not text in our culture”.

Signs in classrooms that tell students that if they don’t read they will go extinct. Reading is not something that is important in Native culture so this is telling the students that their culture is inferior to the western culture.

In an interview with Mr. Winter, a teacher at Lac du Flambeau public school, he said “Kids are moving toward the push of moving to be more like their white friends”.

In an interview with Brook and Lisa they talked about how kids on the reservation are playing video games more and more often and they don’t spend that much time outside anymore.

Many students don’t know how to even speak Ojibwe language anymore.

This repeated cultural hegemony has caused native kids to turn away from their culture and try to fit in more with the dominant western culture.

  • Removal of in-person, school wide singing (elementary)
  • Removal of talking circles (high school)
  • Attempted to limit the seven teachings (Love, respect, honesty, truth, wisdom, courage, humility elementary)
  • Attempted to limit seasonal components and hands-on experiences (elementary)
  • Attempted to limit historical fishing practices (reservation wide)
  • Higher expectations of non-Native students (mostly high school)
  • Compartmentalizing Native culture (both elementary and high school)
  • Two Native counselors, world language week, Native students need to push for cultural elements in the school, pow wows after school, Cultural Connections classroom

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