University of Nebraska Press

Indigenous Education

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American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling

A Comparative Study

Michael C. Coleman

For centuries American Indians and the Irish experienced assaults by powerful, expanding states, along with massive land loss and population collapse. In the early nineteenth century the U.S. government, acting through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), began a systematic campaign to assimilate Indians. Initially dependent on Christian missionary societies, the BIA later built and ran its own day schools and boarding schools for Indian children. At the same time, the British government established a nationwide elementary school system in Ireland, overseen by the commissioners of national education, to assimilate the Irish. By the 1920s, as these campaigns of cultural transformation were ending, roughly similar proportions of Indian and Irish children attended state-regulated schools.
 
In the first full comparison of American and British government attempts to assimilate “problem peoples” through mass elementary education, Michael C. Coleman presents a complex and fascinating portrait of imperialism at work in the two nations. Drawing on autobiographies, government records, elementary school curricula, and other historical documents, as well as photographs and maps, Coleman conveys a rich personal sense of what it was like to have been a pupil at a school where one’s language was not spoken and one’s local culture almost erased. In absolute terms the campaigns failed, yet the schools deeply changed Indian and Irish peoples in ways unpredictable both to them and to their educators.
 
Meticulously researched and engaging, American Indians, the Irish, and Government Schooling sets the agenda for a new era of comparative analyses in global indigenous studies.

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The Bearer of This Letter

Language Ideologies, Literacy Practices, and the F

Mindy J. Morgan

The Bearer of This Letter illuminates the enduring effects of colonialism by examining the decades-long tension between written words and spoken words in a reservation community. Drawing on archival sources and her own extensive work in the community, Mindy J. Morgan investigates how historical understandings of literacy practices challenge current Indigenous language revitalization efforts on the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana.
 
Created in 1887, Fort Belknap is home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine peoples. The history of these two peoples over the past century is a common one among Indigenous groups, with religious and federal authorities aggressively promoting the use of English at the expense of the local Indigenous languages. Morgan suggests that such efforts at the assimilation of Indigenous peoples had a far-reaching and not fully appreciated consequence. Through a close reading of federal, local, and missionary records at Fort Belknap, Morgan demonstrates how the government used documents as a means of restructuring political and social life as well as regulating access to resources during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a result, the residents of Fort Belknap began to use written English as a means of negotiating with the government and when arguing for structural change during the early reservation period while maintaining distinct arenas for Indigenous language use. These linguistic practices have significantly shaped the community’s perceptions of the utility of writing and continue to play a central role in contemporary language programs that increasingly rely on standardized orthographies for Indigenous language programs.

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Boarding School Blues

Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences

Clifford E. Trafzer

Like the figures in the ancient oral literature of Native Americans, children who lived through the American Indian boarding school experience became heroes, bravely facing a monster not of their own making. Sometimes the monster swallowed them up. More often, though, the children fought the monster and grew stronger. This volume draws on the full breadth of this experience in showing how American Indian boarding schools provided both positive and negative influences for Native American children. The boarding schools became an integral part of American history, a shared history that resulted in Indians “turning the power” by using their school experiences to grow in wisdom and benefit their people.

The first volume of essays ever to focus on the American Indian boarding school experience, and written by some of the foremost experts and most promising young scholars of the subject, Boarding School Blues ranges widely in scope, addressing issues such as sports, runaways, punishment, physical plants, and Christianity. With comparative studies of the various schools, regions, tribes, and aboriginal peoples of the Americas and Australia, the book reveals both the light and the dark aspects of the boarding school experience and illuminates the vast gray area in between.

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Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Indigenous Histories, Memories, and Reclamations

Jacqueline Fear-Segal

The Carlisle Indian School (1879–1918) was an audacious educational experiment. Capt. Richard Henry Pratt, the school’s founder and first superintendent, persuaded the federal government that training Native children to accept the white man’s ways and values would be more efficient than fighting deadly battles. The result was that the last Indian war would be waged against Native children in the classroom.

More than 10,500 children from virtually every Native nation in the United States were taken from their homes and transported to Pennsylvania. Carlisle provided a blueprint for the federal Indian school system that was established across the United States and served as a model for many residential schools in Canada. The Carlisle experiment initiated patterns of dislocation and rupture far deeper and more profound and enduring than its initiators ever grasped.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School offers varied perspectives on the school by interweaving the voices of students’ descendants, poets, and activists with cutting-edge research by Native and non-Native scholars. These contributions reveal the continuing impact and vitality of historical and collective memory, as well as the complex and enduring legacies of a school that still touches the lives of many Native Americans.

 

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Education beyond the Mesas

Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Education beyond the Mesas is the fascinating story of how generations of Hopi schoolchildren from northeastern Arizona “turned the power” by using compulsory federal education to affirm their way of life and better their community. Sherman Institute in Riverside, California, one of the largest off-reservation boarding schools in the United States, followed other federally funded boarding schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in promoting the assimilation of indigenous people into mainstream America. Many Hopi schoolchildren, deeply conversant in Hopi values and traditional education before being sent to Sherman Institute, resisted this program of acculturation. Immersed in learning about another world, generations of Hopi children drew on their culture to skillfully navigate a system designed to change them irrevocably. In fact, not only did the Hopi children strengthen their commitment to their families and communities while away in the “land of oranges,” they used their new skills, fluency in English, and knowledge of politics and economics to help their people when they eventually returned home. Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert draws on interviews, archival records, and his own experiences growing up in the Hopi community to offer a powerful account of a quiet, enduring triumph.

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White Man's Club

Schools, Race, and the Struggle of Indian Acculturation

Jacqueline Fear-Segal

Tens of thousands of Indian children filed through the gates of government schools to be trained as United States citizens. Part of a late-nineteenth-century campaign to eradicate Native cultures and communities, these institutions became arenas where whites debated the terms of Indian citizenship, but also where Native peoples resisted the power of white schooling and claimed new skills to protect and redefine tribal and Indian identities.
 
In White Man’s Club, schools for Native children are examined within the broad framework of race relations in the United States for the first time. Jacqueline Fear-Segal analyzes multiple schools and their differing agendas and engages with the conflicting white discourses of race that underlay their pedagogies. She argues that federal schools established to Americanize Native children did not achieve their purpose; instead they progressively racialized American Indians. A far-reaching and bold account of the larger issues at stake, White Man’s Club challenges previous studies for overemphasizing the reformers’ overtly optimistic assessment of the Indians’ capacity for assimilation and contends that a covertly racial agenda characterized this educational venture from the start. Asking the reader to consider the legacy of nineteenth-century acculturation policies, White Man’s Club incorporates the life stories and voices of Native students and traces the schools’ powerful impact into the twenty-first century.
 
Fear-Segal draws upon a rich array of source material. Traditional archival research is interwoven with analysis of maps, drawings, photographs, the built environment, and supplemented by oral and family histories. Creative use of new theoretical and interpretive perspectives brings fresh insights to the subject matter.

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