Laura C. Kellogg on Indian Education (1913)

The United States used education to culturally assimilate Native Americans. Laura Cornelius Kellogg, an Oneida author, performer, and activist who helped found the Society of American Indians (SAI) in 1913, criticized the cultural chauvinism of American policy. Speaking to the SAI, she challenged her Indian audience to embrace modern American democracy while maintaining their own identity.

The word education has several meanings to our race, and at the start I wish to clear up in our minds a common misunderstanding of the term. To some of our Indians at home, going away to a government school means an education from which we may expect anything and everything. To some others, anything the Caucasian does is “educated” and anything “Indian” is not. To those who have gone the whole way of enlightenment, education has another meaning. With them, there is a proper appreciation of the real values of truth wherever they may be found, whether in an Indian or Paleface.

There are old Indians who have never seen the inside of a class room whom I consider far more educated than the young Indian with his knowledge of Latin and Algebra. There is something behind the superb dignity and composure of the old bringing up; there is something in the discipline of the Red Man which has given him a place in the literature and art of this country, there to remain separate and distinct in his proud active bearing against all time, all change.

We want education, yes, we want to know all the educated Caucasian knows but we want our self-respect while we are getting his knowledge. In short, let us discriminate between the goods and bads of civilization and the goods and bads of his own heritage; weed out as many of the bads as we can and send him along the way a finer type of citizen than if we turned him into a very average ‘White man’ just to have him “white” in culture. This is what I mean by recognizing the real values of truth whether they are to be found in paleface or the Indian.

There are altogether 357 government schools; 70 of these reservation boarding schools, 35 non-reservation boarding schools, and 223 day schools. The enrollment in these schools totals 24,500 children. Besides these there are 4,300 children in the mission schools and 11,000 in the public. Of the 11,000, the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma have 6,900. The number of children of the race in school in the country then is 39,800. The last report shows an increase of nearly 2,000 [in] attendance over the year before. Yet, there are still 9,000 children without school facilities!

Another objectionable feature of the boarding school is this matter of health. Where there are several hundred [students] together and a large percentage of them are afflicted with trachoma and tuberculosis the means for their segregation is not sufficient, the well children are open to these dangers. Think of the danger of trachoma. No immigrant can land in New York who has trachoma, but here we are exposing the youth of the race to an incurable disease. If this were done by one individual to another, it would be a penitentiary offense. I hear someone defending the Bureau. Go to the Indian schools and say to the nurses and the doctors that they shall not lose their positions if they will tell you the truth about the conditions of the schools and we would soon enough find that the hospital equipment in the Indian service is nowhere near adequate to the demand.

The white child comes from a well-established economic environment. That is, he has a home where the one idea in the community is to overcome deficits of material well-being. This child is continually asking of his parents to find a better means of support and accumulation. It calls for a continual effort toward improvement. The community life is organized; it produces and has markets, and money is in circulation in it as a natural result….

The Indian child’s environment is the reservation, a world of deficits. The group has really custodian care. There is no real personal liberty in wardship; there is no incentive in the community for any special effort; there is no reward for doing the right thing; the social life is not organized. … There are no markets of their own making and their own responsibility. There is no money continually in circulation. As Marvin Jack, in his paper last year said, when money enters the reservation, it loses its elasticity. When rations and annuities come, they come like spasms. There is nothing being learned by the adult population from necessity. What they do, they do through their own sense of natural acumen or decency. The great wonder is not that at they accomplish so little, but that they are not all outlaws.

Our future is in the hands of the educational system of today. Those of us who have come thus far know how our youth have longed reach the summit of the mountain. Let us not forget our own yearnings and the prayers of our ambitious young for opportunity. Let us climb the highest mountain, without looking back till we have reached the top.

Source: Laura Cornelius Kellogg, “Some Facts and Figures on Indian Education,” The Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians (April 1913), 36-46. Available online via Hathi Trust (