- Education at the Edge of Empire: Negotiating Pueblo Identity in New Mexico’s Indian Boarding Schools by John R. Gram
From the growing bibliography of scholarly studies of the Indian boarding school experience, the reader has come to expect a tragic story of cultural genocide and forced assimilation. Pueblo Indian students of Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) and Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) certainly experienced the trauma of military regimentation and uniforms, rigid restrictions on food consumption, long absences from kith and kin, and attempts to prevent their participation in traditional ceremonies. They did not, however, lose their names or languages as did most other students at Indian boarding schools around the country, and their culture is alive and well.
This intimate portrait of AIS and SFIS was only possible because the author consulted previously ignored archival material, especially the papers of former superintendent John David DeHuff and records from the two schools. His use of oral history interviews by Sally Hyer, which informed her book, One House, One Voice, One Heart (Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990), provides invaluable insight into the student experience at SFIS.
The founders of AIS (in 1881) and SFIS (in 1890) and their superintendents through the years typically held the values of East Coast Protestants. When they found themselves in the midst of a predominately Hispano and Roman Catholic population and in close proximity to the Pueblo villages that were to provide most of the schools’ students, they had to compromise and compete to survive. This situation presented challenges not encountered in most places where Indian boarding schools were located. Moreover, public education, to the rather limited extent it existed at the time, was largely under the Catholic Church’s control. The very existence of the schools depended on having as many students as possible, and it fell to the school superintendents to negotiate with Pueblo leaders to deliver students for each term. These negotiations took place in the context of competition between AIS and SFIS, with other Indian boarding schools around the country, and with the Catholic Church in New Mexico. AIS and SFIS were not in a position to dictate terms.
To ensure that Pueblo communities would supply students, superintendents acquiesced to demands from village leaders for the students to spend summers at their home pueblos and permit frequent visits by family members, practices that Indian boarding schools usually frowned upon. These and other concessions gave the Pueblos the opportunity to influence the direction of the schools. As the author notes, “the Albuquerque [End Page 524] and Santa Fe Indian School were not merely something that happened to the Pueblos, but also something that they profoundly shaped” (21).
Although most of the students at AIS and SFIS over time were Pueblo, there were students from other Indian groups. One unintended consequence, as the author and other scholars have noted, was the emergence of pan-Indian awareness and identity, as the local students interacted with students from other tribal areas. The schools also provided Pueblo students something more. “For some Pueblo students who attended AIS or SFIS, the boarding schools served as gateways to new careers, new friendships, new romances, new ideas, and a new perspective on themselves and the world” (174).
The AIS campus, which the All Indian Pueblo Council had operated since 1977, was closed permanently in 1989. The students, staff, and equipment were relocated to SFIS, which the council continues to operate.
This book offers a fascinating and unexpected view of the Indian boarding experience. It is a welcome addition to Native American historiography and should be of interest to anyone who values a deeper understanding of the way in which Pueblo people in New Mexico were able to make an institution dedicated to destroying their way of life work instead for them.