Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

Synopsis

Boarding School Seasons offers a revealing look at the strong emotional history of Indian boarding school experiences in the first half of the twentieth century. At the heart of this book are the hundreds of letters written by parents, children, & school officials at Haskell Institute in Kansas & the Flandreau School in South Dakota. These revealing letters show how profoundly entire families were affected by their experiences. Children, who often attended schools at great distances from their communities, suffered from homesickness, & their parents from loneliness. Parents worried continually about the emotional & physical health & the academic process of their children. Families clashed repeatedly with school officials over rampant illnesses & deplorable living conditions & devised strategies to circumvent severely limiting visitation rules. Family intimacy was threatened by the schools' suppression of traditional languages & Native cultural practices. Although boarding schools were a threat to family life, profound changes occurred in the boarding school experience as families turned to these institutions for relief during the Depression, when poverty & the loss of traditional seasonal economies proved a greater threat. Boarding School Seasons provides a multifaceted look at the aspirations & struggles of real people.

Excerpt

Letters are at the heart of this story. I followed a strong inclination to retreat from interpretations of established sources in writing this book about a distinctive period in American Indian history. The gift of documents both varied and powerful supported my historical exploration. Boarding school records encompass the familiar "official" data, in addition to school newspapers, oral history collections, photographs, biographies, and letters. I have studied and cited all of these sources, favoring letters written by American Indian people. Publications by the U.S. government, annual reports, and other correspondence that passed between Washington officials and school administrators have been indispensable to historians because they outline the broad contours of federal policy, but these documents fall short of being able to explain American Indian points of view.

School newspapers present an especially intriguing category for analysis, considering that boarding school students and graduates published columns, articles, and letters. Students typically assumed an active role in the mechanics of publication, as when The Indian Leader was issued from their own printing department at Haskell. Newspapers reflected the culture of boarding schools; even articles authored by American Indians were destined for a public audience and must therefore be approached with a measure of skepticism. Again, unpublished sources such as the boarding school letters introduce a less censored opportunity to study Indian motivations, thoughts, and experiences.

Recent scholars writing about the history of Indian education have preferred oral history with living repositories of boarding school information over historical documentation found in archives. Sally McBeth (1983), Celia Haig-Brown (1988), and K. Tsianina Lomawaima (1994) interviewed former students in their significant studies of residential schools in Oklahoma and Canada. McBeth, one of the first tillers in the field, understood boarding schools as cultural symbols . . .

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