Challenging Cultural Genocide: Anishinaabe Students’ Resistance at Carlisle Indian School

Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School used official publications to assert their cultural identity and challenge the mission of cultural genocide.

The Carlisle Indian School, known for its infamous mission to “Kill the Indian and save the man,” witnessed an unexpected form of resistance from some of its students. In her research, Julie Morrow explores the writings of Anishinaabe students between 1904 and 1918, revealing how they subverted the school’s intentions and used their voices to preserve and evolve their native cultures. This article delves into the unique platform provided by Carlisle’s publications, where students shared their customs, legends, and history, ultimately challenging the narrative of cultural extinction.

A Changing Perspective on Native Cultures

During the early 20th century, as the “closing of the frontier” led to a nostalgic fascination with Native American cultures among white Americans, Carlisle’s publications sought to satisfy this curiosity. Moses Friedman, the superintendent from 1908, encouraged students to write about Native American legends, customs, and history, framing it as a means of “preserving” cultures that were perceived as nearing extinction. However, Morrow highlights how Anishinaabe students seized this opportunity to showcase the resilience and evolution of their cultures.

Redefining Indian Ways of Working

The Carlisle School’s curriculum aimed to “civilize” students by dismissing traditional Indian ways of working, portraying them as lazy. However, in the safe haven of the Indian culture pages, Anishinaabe students defied these stereotypes. Through their writings, they highlighted their tribes’ unique methods of working, such as craft-making, hunting, and harvesting rice. Morrow cites Estelle Bradley’s account of an Anishinaabe trickster myth, where she includes intricate details about women making rope from the inner bark of a bass-wood tree, challenging the school’s disparagement of native women’s work.

Unveiling the Stolen Land

Margaret Blackwood, a nineteen-year-old student, used the familiar form of an origin story to reveal the true story behind the theft of her tribe’s land. Her tale, set in living memory around 1842, explained how her family’s hometown, Ontonagon, Michigan, acquired its name. By intertwining history with myth, Blackwood exposed the ongoing impact of colonialism and the dispossession of Native lands. Through her writing, she confronted the erasure of her people’s history and asserted their enduring presence.

Christmas Celebrations and Cultural Identity

Edward Bracklin’s essay on Christmas provided a contrasting perspective on the holiday, challenging the focus on store-bought presents. Bracklin, an Anishinaabe student, highlighted the joy experienced by the “Indian boy” spending the holiday in the plains and forests, which had always been a source of enjoyment. By reminiscing about the Christmas celebrations before their enrollment at Carlisle, Bracklin emphasized the importance of the natural environment and the cultural identity tied to it.

A Platform for Adaptation and Identity

Morrow concludes that the writings of Anishinaabe students at Carlisle showcased their adaptability, resilience, and cross-cultural identities. These articles became powerful tools for the students to proudly display their values and native knowledge. By subverting the intention of cultural assimilation, they transformed the school’s official publications into platforms of resistance and cultural preservation.


The writings of Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School provide a unique window into the complexities of cultural resistance and adaptation. Through their articles, these students challenged the narrative of cultural extinction and asserted their cultural identity. Their stories not only shed light on the individual experiences of these students but also serve as a testament to the resilience of Native cultures in the face of cultural genocide. The legacy of their resistance continues to inspire and inform discussions on the preservation of indigenous knowledge and traditions.






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