- Indian Play: Indigenous Identities at Bacone College by Lisa K. Neuman
Lisa Neuman’s Indian Play is a narrative history of Bacone College, an institution founded in 1880 in Indian Country (Oklahoma) to assimilate and Christianize Cherokees and other members of the Five Civilized Tribes. The book is a complement to the literature on American Indian boarding schools. The boarding school movement, started in the late nineteenth century, was designed to assimilate and Christianize American Indians. While assimilation was at the heart of Bacone’s original mission, the student body and Indian faculty were able to create a separate identity that only partly conformed to the original mission.
Neuman argues that students at Bacone used play and humor to create a new, partly Christian identity. Play was used not only to tell their individual stories but also as a form of resistance. The column “Old InJun” (237) used stereotypical images to satirize both themselves and non-Indians; the mockery became the focus of the arts at Bacone. The movement was nurtured by the hiring of American Indian faculty in the twentieth century. Bacone began to change with the hiring of a multitribal faculty. As Bacone’s faculty diversified so did the student body—eventually including students from different tribes. This allowed Bacone to become part of the pan-Indian movement of the 1970s, which was central to the renaissance of American Indian culture in the Great Plains.
Indian Play could have been significantly improved by the addition of a chapter on the philosophical struggle between Christianity and American Indian tribalism. For instance, American Baptists emphasize an individual conversion and an individual relationship with Jesus. These ideas are in direct contrast with tribal concepts of clan membership and collective responsibility. In the chapter “The Meaning of Indianness,” Neuman explores the sense of community among the students; however, she doesn’t take the next step and discuss the inherent assimilationist nature of Protestant Christianity.
Nonetheless, overall, Indian Play deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious American Indian educational scholar. The work is an excellent addition to the literature of both the boarding school movement and the creativity of American Indian resistance. [End Page 123]
University of Wisconsin La Crosse