Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


Historian finds baseball in old American Indian schools
Information from: St. Cloud Times,

Minnesota: More than 100 years ago, Native American boarding schools were run by religious orders and the federal government. Their mission was to assimilate Indians into white America. Young children were ripped from their families to live at schools that stripped them of their languages, identities, families, and cultures.

David Laliberte from St. Cloud State University has uncovered a remarkable story from the St. Johnís Industrial School. The story is of preservation among some of these children forced to renounce Ojibwe ways in favor of white culture. Itís a story of how the tribal youth re-created themselves to not only survive, but excel.

"The story is about native people and their resilience and their adaptability, to persevere through these schools and to use whatever cracks in the system they can _ whatever tools they can _ to continue to endure as a people," Laliberte said. "And baseball became I think, in many ways, one of those tools."

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, baseball was becoming the national past time and another way to assimilate Native American children into Euro-American life.  At St. John's Industrial School, Ojibwe students formed baseball teams to compete against others from the area. Students organized and ran the teams themselves. During games, they often used the Ojibwe language because other teams couldn't understand it -- just like today's coaching signals are designed to do.

This also enabled Ojibwe children to retain part of their culture when whites were telling them to renounce it.

The existence of the these Ojibwe teams was mostly unreported until Laliberte began researching Native American boarding schools. His related article: "Myth, History and Indian Baseball: An Unexpected Story of the Game in Minnesota" was recognized by the McFarland-Society for American Baseball Research as among this year's best articles or papers on the history or biography of baseball.

Laliberteís research showed "how preservation of Indian culture would exist in the framework of this school (designed) to pare down Indian cultures," said Bruce McCann White, a renowned historian on Native American culture and director of Turnstone Historical Research. "He opened my eyes to how important it was."

Baseball game at St Mary's Mission School, Red Lake: Minnesota Historical Society

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