Published on February 22, 2011 by Carol
Pratt’s practice of Americanization of Native Americans by forced cultural assimilation, which he effected both at Fort Marion and Carlisle, was later regarded by some as a form of cultural genocide. He believed that to claim their rightful place as American citizens, Native Americans needed to renounce their tribal way of life, convert to Christianity, abandon their reservations, and seek education and employment among the “best classes” of Americans. In his writings he described his belief that the government must “kill the Indian to save the man”. At Fort Marion and Carlisle, he sanctioned beatings to force Native Americans to stop speaking their own respective languages. Later schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Carlisle model were marked by kidnapping and imprisonment of children at the schools, disease, sexual abuse, and suicide. Nevertheless, Pratt’s approach was forward-thinking for its time inasmuch as he regarded Native Americans as being worthy of respect and help, and capable of full participation in society, whereas most of his contemporaries regarded Native Americans as enemies to be fought and killed.
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Pratt became an outspoken opponent of tribal segregation on reservations. He believed the system as administered and encouraged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was hindering the education and civilization of Native Americans and creating helpless wards of the state. These views led to conflicts with the Indian Bureau and the government officials who supported the reservation system. In May, 1904 Pratt denounced the Indian Bureau and the reservation system as a hindrance to the civilization and assimilation of Native Americans. This controversy, coupled with earlier disputes with the government over civil service reform, led to Pratt’s forced retirement as superintendent of the Carlisle School on June 30, 1904. This did not, however, end Pratt’s support for Native American causes. A tireless speaker and letter writer, he continued his campaign for fair and humane treatment of the Native American. The legacy of Pratt’s boarding school programs is felt by modern Native American tribes, where he is often remembered not as a champion for Native American rights but as leader of a cultural genocide that targeted children
From his home in Rochester, New York, during his retirement years, Pratt continued to lecture and argue his viewpoints, but without great success. He died on April 23, 1924, at the Letterman Army Hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In the 2005 miniseries, Into the West, produced by Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks, Pratt is played by Keith Carradine.