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A little more than a century ago, a young Winnebago Ho-Chunk Indian from Nebraska traveled east to attend preparatory school and eventually Yale, where he rivaled, befriended and was a beloved member of the Class of 1910. Empowered by his education and sustained by friendships he made at Yale, Henry Roe Cloud became the century’s greatest American Indian educational reformer, one whose pioneering speeches, research, ministry and collective works reversed policies aimed at eradicating Native Americans. More than any other, Cloud understood the devastating legacies of forced assimilation and worked to overturn its pernicious effects. For his humanitarian visions of self-empowerment, his steadfast devotion to community and family and his constant attempt to fulfill the virtuous ideals of light and truth, Cloud merits consideration for a residential college.
Cloud’s achievements are nearly as unlikely as they are impressive. Born into a community only recently removed from its ancestral homelands, he knew well the sufferings inflicted upon indigenous people. Five forced removals of Ho-Chunk Indians occurred throughout the 19th century, the last in the winter of 1873 when state officials used railway cars to remove tribal members to Nebraska. Disease, exposure and malnutrition afflicted all Ho-Chunk communities, and Cloud lost both his parents as a child. Like thousands of American Indian children, he was sent to military-style boarding schools where he displayed a remarkable inquisitiveness and aptitude. After receiving sponsorship for more advanced study, Cloud moved to attend Mount Hermon and then Yale.
Boarding schools, divisive land practices and cultural persecution characterized Indian affairs during the first half of Cloud’s life. Not until the New Deal would federal leaders attempt to reverse such disasters, a culmination of nearly two decades of Cloud’s tireless efforts to expose as well as reform the injustices of forced assimilation.
More than an educational leader and reformer, Cloud was a dedicated father, community member and Ho-Chunk speaker. He inspired Indian leaders and youth in his time and now ours, using both Christian and Ho-Chunk cultural values. A child of the heartland, he loved his tribe, family and nation unconditionally, an inspiration increasingly remembered today and worthy of permanent commemoration.
Ned Blackhawk is a professor of history and American Studies. Contact him at email@example.com.