It is hard to conclude whether the solution to the “Indian problem” pursued by the U.S. government in the nineteenth century was successful or not because in this case the definition of “success” is problematic. The exterminationist camp would view killing all Indians as a “success,” while for the other camp thoroughly Americanizing Indians was a sign of success. Both goals were problematic, the former calling for a physical genocide and the latter calling for a cultural genocide. The latter policy was adopted by the U.S. government but it was an assault on Native American identity, culture, and the way of life. It also involved violence, as children of American Indians were taken away and placed in the boarding schools by force. It is difficult to speak of a “success” within this context.

But if we accept the definition of “success” as understood by Americans at the time, the policy adopted by the government was a failure.

It caused more problems than solutions. Taking away American Indian children from their parents was hardly an effective way of proving that the American way of life was more “civilized” and “uplifting.” Hardly any Indian parent would be convinced. And the matter of teaching in boarding schools alienated American Indian children rather than assimilating them. They returned to their homes sometimes bitterly resentful of the American system, ways of life, Christianity, and the treatment they received at the hands of Protestant educators. Therefore, the policy adopted by the government to solve the “Indian Problem” was a failure.


“Tragedy of the Plains Indians: Kill the Indian and Save the Man” (n.d.) Digital History. Retrieved on 15 Dec. 2011 from>.

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