History professor presents research on Carlisle Boarding School, oppression of Native Americans

Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg (pictured above) delivered a talk on Friday Nov. 2 to discuss his research and publications on the Onondaga tribe and the Carlisle Boarding School. Oberg has published multiple books on the topics he discussed (Udeshi Seneviratne/photo editor).

Students and faculty crowded Welles room 121 on Friday Nov. 2 as they eagerly awaited to hear a talk delivered by Dr. Michael Oberg on the Carlisle Boarding School.

Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg centered his talk around his research on the Onondagas and the Carlisle Boarding School—a boarding school in Pennsylvania open from 1879 to 1918 where Native Americans were sent to learn about white culture. Oberg is doing this research to write and eventually publish a book about the Onondagas. 

Oberg is the author of multiple books including Dominion and Civility: Imperialism and Native America, 1585-1685, Native America: A History and Peacemakers: The Iroquois, the United States, and the Treaty of Canandaigua, 1794, among others. 

The boarding schools like Carlisle were often sites where the state tried to erase Native identities, Oberg argued. Many parents and children were told lies about the school by agents who would come to Indian reservations to try and recruit students to attend Carlisle. 

The families were told lies about how long students would be there and about the distance the school was from the reservation.  Many of the prospective Onondaga students came from troubled backgrounds, viewing Carlisle as the only real way to expand their education.  

Female students learned domestic work—such as cooking and sewing—while some were able to go into nursing. Men were taught trades and military classes. The school also had an outing system where students would leave for a certain period of time to learn the trade or career firsthand.

Oberg also touched on some of the specific students and what they did in their lifetime after attending Carlisle. One man by the name of Jeremiah Homer left Carlisle and went on to become an instructor on a reservation. Then, when Homer and 15 other members of the Onondaga tribe went to Europe to perform in a Circus Company, they were imprisoned for their safety once the war started.

Oberg underscored the resilience of people like Homer who continued to survive despite a sustained effort by the state to quash their rights and identity. 

“Onondaga has been invaded, hit by disease,” Oberg said. “The state has been at war with the Onondagas for as long as the state existed, and yet here they are, still existing, still defending their community, still defying the expectations of their white neighbors.” 

Professor Oberg’s talk provided a framework for students to understand the issues around them that they may have not known about before. Everyone who attended could likely take something out of it, whether it be the atrocities human beings have committed against other human beings in the past or how to continue to fight for what one believes in.