Sarah Whitt

False Promises: Race, Power, and the Chimera of Indian Assimilation 1879-1934

My dissertation centers on the institutionalization and punishment of American Indian women and men at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879-1918) in Carlisle, PA and the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1902-1934) in Canton, SD, the first institutions of their kind designed solely for Indian people. Specifically, I analyze how white American officials at Carlisle and Canton devised new disciplinary techniques to control, manage, and immobilize adult Indian people, and how officials at both sites enacted punitive policies articulated as uplifting. In examining the entwined objectives of Carlisle and Canton, I reveal how two separate institutions furthered settler-colonial processes of Indigenous elimination and proletarianization through overlapping punitive policies and practices. I am concerned with the relationship between Carlisle and Canton, how Indian women and men navigated disciplinary structures that seized upon their bodies and minds as pathological, deviant, and infantile, and how white Americans wielded punishment as a form of white racial power held in common over Indian people under their jurisdiction. These phenomena expose how Carlisle and Canton segregated, racialized, and criminalized Indian women and men at least as much as they claimed to educate, train, care for, or “cure” them.