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  • Carlisle’s Writing CircleBoarding School Texts and the Decolonization of Domesticity
  • Amanda J. Zink (bio)

Annie Goyitney, a Laguna Pueblo and a graduating student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, asks in her 1901 commencement address: “What Should Be the Aim of a Carlisle Indian Girl?” As part of the answer to her question Goyitney writes:

The Indian girl, perhaps, does not realize the value of her education, for she does not know what it is to struggle for a living as other girls do who have had no Government aid to depend upon. Yet many of us are afraid to start in life for ourselves, but we should be womanly and face whatever comes. If a girl finds that she must go home to her parents, she can be a great help to them, as she can teach them the right ways of living and make the home comfortable and cheerful for them. She may at first find hardships in their way of living but her aim should be to show them that the ways of the white people bring more comfort and happiness.

That Goyitney’s address smacks of the rhetoric of colonialism and the dogma of domesticity is no accident. She would not have been allowed to give her address otherwise. To be sure, these lines from her speech bear a striking resemblance to portions of Marianna Burgess’s now-familiar novella, Stiya: A Carlisle Indian Girl at Home, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1891 after first circulating in 1889 in Indian Helper, an earlier version of the school’s newsletter where Goyitney published her essay. The novella, of course, served the boarding schools as a central piece of propaganda: Stiya, the protagonist, performs “the right ways of living” for readers who were intended to be, we must remember, Carlisle Indian girls returning home. Writing Stiya, Burgess—a white administrator of the Carlisle school—constructed the “ideal” Indian girl who unquestioningly [End Page 37] internalized her domestic education at Carlisle, returned home to her family, and in turn lifted her Native parents out of their Indian “savagery” and into American “civilization.” Jane Simonsen writes that the visit from Stiya’s Carlisle teachers at novel’s end sanctifies her home-making achievements (93). Without a doubt, Stiya’s clean, white sheets and her clean tablecloth signal Stiya’s accomplishment: she has whitewashed her family and is now a shining example of the assimilation desired by her teachers, by Carlisle School, and by the federal government.

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Fig. 1.

“Industrial Talks—Benefits of the Outing System.” Female students perform—on Carlisle’s commencement stage—their newly acquired skills in European American domesticity. From left to right, each room shows a different task mastered: fluffing pillows in the bedroom, dressmaking in the living room, setting the table in the dining room. Each room is also neat, tidy, and decorated with European American furnishings, and the whole “house” is flanked by gigantic American flags. American Indian and Indigenous Studies Collection, Newberry Library, Chicago.

Scholars and historians of federal boarding schools for American Indian students have established, comprehensively and inarguably, the centrality of the ideology of domesticity to the schools’ express purpose: “Kill the Indian and Save the Man.”1 Indeed, Richard Pratt and other boarding school officials imagined that the most direct course to “saving” Indian men was “chiefly through their women” (Mason 238).2 Some of these scholars have discussed the roles that literary domesticity, or the sentimental form, played for female Indian students who navigated [End Page 38] the ideological quagmires that were the boarding schools. Amelia Katanski and Ernest Stromberg, for instance, address the work of Francis La Flesche, Charles Eastman, and Zitkala-Ša, focusing primarily on what they wrote after they were students. Janet Dean discusses Stiya and S. Alice Callahan’s sentimental novel, Wynema, focusing on reading as a site of colonial indoctrination and Native resistance. But in taking the pseudonym Embe and writing Stiya as a first-person narration of a Carlisle girl’s return home, Burgess also imagined an Indian girl writing. Stiya functioned as federal propaganda, but it also stood as botha model for...


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