Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families, 1900-1940

By Brenda J. Child | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
The Legacy of Boarding School Letters

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 Again, unpublished sources such as the boarding school letters introduce a less censored opportunity to study Indian motivations, thoughts, and experiences.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. 1 McBeth, one of the first tillers in the field, understood boarding schools as cultural symbols

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