Peter d'Errico: Indian people long viewed as uncivilized in law

"The cases that comprise federal Indian law often use words of civilized domination. One of these, Davis v. Sitka School Board, 3 Alaska 481 (1908), involved six "mixed blood" children: Dora and Tillie Davis; John and Lottie Littlefield; Lizzie and Peter Allard, who petitioned to be admitted to the Sitka public school. Their lawyer, the court stated, labored "among the native Alaskans… to advance the conditions of the native children and of the children of the mixed blood."

The Sitka school was created to educate "white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life." The statute said, "Eskimos and Indians…shall remain under the direction and control of the Secretary of the Interior, and … shall have the … right to be admitted to any Indian boarding school." The question, the court said, is whether the mixed blood children were leading a civilized life and therefore eligible to attend public school.

The statute said nothing about full blood Indians being civilized, since, the court said, "The Indian in his native state has everywhere been found to be savage, an uncivilized being, when measured by the white man's standard." For this reason, "the care and education of the Indian has been one of the problems that has vexed the government.""

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Sacrificed to Civilization (Indian Country Today 12/8)

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