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  • More Than a Food FightIntellectual Traditions and Cultural Continuity in Chilocco's Indian School Journal, 1902-1918
  • Jennifer Bess (bio)

As part of the 1910 commencement exercises at the Chilocco Indian Industrial School in Chilocco, Oklahoma, graduate Mack Setima (Hopi, Rocky Ford, Colorado, graduated in 1910) concluded his oration with a comparison between past and present and a synecdoche that reached into the future: "Just as the old American Indian left what was for him a life of ease and gradually became a part of that civilization which was forced upon him, so we leave our school home and the friends who have been so good to us and go out to face new difficulties and new trials."1 His comparison to previous generations provides a sense of cultural continuity, while the collective history of facing obstacles casts an epic importance around the forecast that follows. Setima proceeds to describe himself and his classmates-Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Chippewa, Winnebago, and Pueblo, including Hopi-as a collective "we" that serves as a synecdoche of his generation of indigenous peoples facing yet another transformed environment. By embedding continuity in his comparison between the old challenges and the new, Setima insists that continuity coexists with adaptation: he and his peers will define themselves in relation to their diverse traditions and also in relation to a burgeoning Pan-Indian identity and the Anglo culture that unwittingly fostered it by bringing students together at off-reservation federal boarding schools like Chilocco.2

Through his many works calling for the evolution of indigenous theory, Duane Champagne has emphasized the importance of recovering indigenous voices such as Setima's and documenting forms of cultural continuity. According to Champagne, case studies such as K. Tsianina Lomawaima's scholarship on Chilocco School "are important ways to [End Page 77] gain in-depth understanding" of "patterns of change within indigenous communities," specifically so that "Native people are seen as active participants and creators of their own patterns of institutional change within the constraints of their own cultural and institutional orders and colonial contexts."3 This study will complement Lomawaima's work on the Chilocco School by providing a close study of the ways in which students preserved and communicated their own cultural continuity on the pages of Chilocco's monthly magazine, the Indian School Journal.4 Specifically, after continuing with this brief introduction providing a sample of student voices and an overview of Chilocco's mission, this essay will contribute to the ongoing scholarship on federal boarding schools by examining the ways in which federal assimilationist policies were actualized in the cultivation and consumption of food at Chilocco and the ways in which students used the Indian School Journal to resist this particular assault on their identities.

David Wallace Adams has documented the boarding school system as a mechanism of the "government's determination to completely restructure the Indians' minds and personalities," as well as their bodies, as students were expected and forced to "acquire the food rites of civilized society."5 The federal government's hope-a complete transformation and, in the case of foodways, a literal assimilative embodiment-was, however, complicated, even thwarted, when Setima and his classmate Albert Yava (Tewa Hopi, Keams Canyon, Arizona, 1906-10) found ways of preserving their cultural identities. As Yava writes in his autobiography decades after leaving Chilocco, "We wanted to cope with a new culture without giving up on our old one. . . . I have always thought that the only way we can save the old traditions is to recognize the new forces at work in our lives, accept that times have changed, and become part of the modern world."6 Building on a spiritual tradition founded in origin myths of emergence and re-emergence, blending and adapting, Yava's repeated references to a flood or a tide of change signifying both destruction and rebirth illuminate the intellectual tradition behind the Pan-Indian conclusion to his classmate's oration: "As we go we feel that we owe it to our school, to our race, and to ourselves to do our level best."7 Together, the repetition of the word "new" in "new difficulties and new trials" and the first-person collective pronouns...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 77-110
Launched on MUSE
2013-06-02
Open Access
No
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