The Sherman Indian High School field trip was like a walk into the past, with a hope that the Native American educational school system could preserve the unique aspects of a multi tribe academic setting. The horrors of historical implementation in the past to Native Americans by the feds was a dim reminder to what was and what could be.
We began the trip with a lengthy lecture in a large classroom. The school administrator told of how Indian schools were established. Richard Henry Pratt of the U.S. Army decided to help Indian children captured in battle in establishing a school. Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians were the first to try traditional education on. It was under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In the early stages the Indians were expected to fully conform: they abandoned tribal clothing, religion and languages.
There were two initial schools at Fort Marion and St. Augustine, Florida. In 1879, the official first Indian Boarding school was opened in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Children were not even allowed to go home during holiday recess. They were sent to white families to learn their traditions. The Perris Indian School was formed in Southern California. It was the first off site reservation school for Indians. It was moved to Riverside in 1904. The lot of the school was 500 acres and the purpose of the school was to be self sustaining. From 1909-12 it was an Industrial school and taught boys many skills such as building and carpentry. Girls were subjected to domestic fields. The girls helped feed the students and staff with their baking class.
The school was built for 600 students. There was even a cemetery for those who died related to the school. The male welding club built a beautiful wrought iron gate for the cemetery. There was a farm and training on the farm, blacksmith classes and carpentry. The school was self sustaining. The boys assisted with building furniture, buildings, machinery for the school.
In 1932, the school became accredited as an education institution. From 1946-64, a full Navajo program was implemented including life and job skills. In 1966, the academic slate was considered to be as broad as any state of the art school. It became accredited with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. In 970 the school name was changed to its present name. There is an annual Pow Wow to celebrate the longevity of the school. In 2006, the BIA has a new separate arm called the Bureau of Indian Education. The school continues to thrive as Native America traditional cultural practices have new found popularity and interest. The present student population no longer have to feel ashamed of their past but join the movement to restore their cultural roots.
My personal experience at the school is that I felt both pride and ignorance for a culture I revere. I wrote a Native American Play that won top exposure in the entertainment industry and was opened up to Native American audiences at the American Indian Film Festival. I felt I knew mostly everything there was to know about the modern Native American experience. However, it has been years since I have done research and kept up with current Native American events. I was completely unaware these schools were in existence. When I found out people like Russell Means' sister worked there (former head of the American Indian Movement) and taught Ojibwe and Navajo, I was felt like I had come to the right place of understanding. I felt like the government was capable of reversing their oppressive policies and being capable of doing good and giving the Indian students a remarkable opportunity. I feel the students have an opportunity to blend with other tribes and have a once in a lifetime opportunity. If the student can overcome the issues of loneliness, homesickness, bad influences within the City of Riverside, they can bring home to their family a valuable experience worth sharing. The student then can learn personal growth and independence and move on toward higher education. They may also contribute to a greater movement of restoring Native American practices and traditions within mainstream America.