Pushing Back Against Cultural Genocide: Anishinaabe Students’ Resistance at Carlisle Indian School

An Exploration of Anishinaabe Students’ Writing in Carlisle Indian School Publications

The Carlisle Indian School, notorious for its mission to “Kill the Indian and save the man,” witnessed a surprising form of resistance from some of its students. Julie Morrow delves into the writings of Anishinaabe students from the Great Lakes and Plains regions between 1904 and 1918, revealing how they used the school’s official publications to challenge the cultural genocide imposed upon them. Despite the school’s intentions to assimilate Native American students into white American society, these young writers found a way to reclaim their narratives and showcase the resilience of their cultures.

Embracing Native American Legends and Customs

During the early 20th century, there was a growing nostalgia among white Americans for Native American culture. This led to a surge in popularity for Indian blankets, baskets, and other crafts. Recognizing this trend, Carlisle’s publications sought to cater to the curiosity of white readers by encouraging more writing about Native American legends, customs, and history. However, Morrow highlights how the Anishinaabe students subverted this intention, using the platform to showcase their ongoing traditions and cultural evolution. They turned the tables on the school, using its own publications to assert their agency and challenge the narrative of cultural extinction.

Challenging Stereotypes of Indian Work Ethic

The Carlisle School aimed to “civilize” Native American students by preparing them for labor in a white-dominated society. This perspective often denigrated traditional Indian ways of working, portraying them as lazy and unproductive. However, the writings of Anishinaabe students in the school’s periodicals revealed a different story. Despite being trained in trades like blacksmithing and wheat farming, these students took the opportunity to highlight the importance of traditional Anishinaabe work, such as hunting, craft-making, and rice harvesting. By doing so, they aimed to challenge the stereotypes imposed upon them by both the school and mainstream society.

The Power of Storytelling

Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School utilized storytelling as a means of resistance and cultural preservation. Morrow cites the example of Estelle Bradley, who, in recounting an Anishinaabe trickster myth, included vivid details about women making rope from the inner bark of a bass-wood tree and using hatchets to chop a large hole in a stump. These details were not necessary for the story itself but allowed Bradley to express her admiration for the native women’s work, which had been disparaged by both the school and society at large. By incorporating these details, the students celebrated their cultural practices and asserted their worth.

Unveiling the Truth of Land Theft

Margaret Blackwood, a nineteen-year-old Anishinaabe student, used the familiar form of an origin story to expose the true story of her tribe’s land theft. In her tale, set in the living memory of 1842, Blackwood recounted the theft of her tribe’s land, highlighting the injustices suffered by her community. By weaving this true story into the fabric of her narrative, she challenged the dominant narrative of white settlers as the rightful owners of the land. Through her writing, Blackwood reclaimed her tribe’s history and exposed the injustices inflicted upon them.

Reclaiming the Joy of Native Celebrations

Edward Bracklin, another student at Carlisle, utilized an essay about Christmas to contrast the materialistic focus of white children with the joy experienced by the “Indian boy” spending the holiday in the plains and forests, which had been their source of enjoyment throughout their lives. Bracklin emphasized the freedom and connection to nature that Native American children experienced before being confined to the strict routines of the school. By highlighting the contrast, Bracklin challenged the assimilation efforts of the school and celebrated the unique joys of his own cultural traditions.


The writings of Anishinaabe students at Carlisle Indian School serve as powerful testaments to their resilience and resistance in the face of cultural genocide. Through the school’s own publications, these students found a voice and a platform to challenge stereotypes, celebrate their traditions, and assert their agency. Their writings offer a glimpse into the complexities of cultural adaptation and the ways in which marginalized communities can reclaim their narratives. The legacy of these students’ resistance continues to inspire and inform discussions on the preservation of indigenous cultures and the importance of diverse voices in shaping our understanding of history.






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