"The Great White Way"

The English missionaries who attempted to Christianize the Indians and transform them religiously, many times had other changes in mind for the native citizens of the new land as well. As more and more European settlers came to North America, it became important for them to be able to predict the actions of the Indians. The Europeans already were seeing the Indians as "impediments" to the agricultural way of life and the religious men who came to "convert" the Indians spriritually, also recognized a need to convert them culturally. Though the efforts were not as successful as hoped, the attempts to "reduce" the Indians crossed into many facets of life. The areas that the English felt needed to be changed in the Indian were their politics, economics, language, sexual customs, and personal appearance. It became a goal to make the Indian conform to "the Great White Way" of these cultural aspects. One of the popular methods to arrive at the goal was for the English to establish "Praying Towns" for the Indians to inhabit.

The "Praying Town" was set up to segregate the targeted population from its uncivilized counterpart. The lifestyle that included shamans who were also sachems in the Indian society posed an obstacle for the missionaries because they possessed not only political and social control, but also religious control of their tribe. In setting up the "Praying Town" system, the political structure of the new "town" was forced to adopt an Anglicized ideal. The Indians who chose to convert enjoyed political and economic alliances with the English.

Even so, the Europeans saw the Indian as lacking in "Order, Industry, and Manners." He was perceived as lazy and idle. Perhaps this stemmed from the cultural bias of the English. For example, where the Indian’s reason for hunting was to acquire food and clothing, the Englishmen viewed hunting as a sport. And if the Indian’s nomadic way served him as a life-sustaining method, the English became more determined to make him settle down and become involved in their economy—trade or farming. This did not mean that they were given the same "ease of living" that the whites would have enjoyed. Indians in the Towns were taught menial vocational skills for jobs that white men would not or could not fill.

A popular method to obtain conversion of the Indian was to put him in school. In addition to teaching him religious doctrines, the English hoped to "civilize" him even more by teaching him the English language. In stark contrast, Eleazar Wheelock of Dartmouth encouraged the Indian to use his native language in the hopes that he would go back to his original home and teach other Indians. Another facet of the school environment for the Indian was the separation of the sexes.

The male students were kept separate from the females in an attempt to "reduce" the shocking sexual behavior that the Indian displayed. Adultery seemed rampant because the Christian English did not recognize the Indian divorce. Also, the indiscriminate manner in which the Indian youth explored his sexuality was of concern. The promiscuity and nudity of the Indian was criticized by the English clergy in many sermons.

To combat this state of undress, the English attempted to clothe the Indian as a white man with the hope of making him "look like European colonists." Some of the problems with this, however, were the impracticality of the woven cloth articles in the woods because they tore easily in the brush and they had to be cleaned or replaced more frequently than the preferred animal skin garments. After relieving the Indian of his savage half-dress, the next undertaking was to cut his hair. To the Indian, the long hair was his identity, but to the Puritan the long hair was his sin—Pride—one of the Seven Deadlies.

In their efforts to retrieve the Indian from his "wicked" path and set him aright on the great "White" way, the English chipped away at the native society. Where European disease did not destroy a village, the one-way acculturation would erode the native cultural identity.

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