- Mining Boarding School Newspapers for Native American Women Editors and Writers
“News-paper making isn’t play,” declared Ida Johnson, Lula Walker, and Arizona Jackson in their February 1880 editorial in the Hallaquah, a monthly published at the Seneca Indian School in Oklahoma.1 As this quote suggests, these three Native American schoolgirls took their editorial work with the Hallaquah seriously and sought to transform the boarding school press by offering their voices and critical perspectives.2 That three young women assumed roles as printers and editors of their school newspaper at a time when such positions were limited for women—and especially limited for Native American girls—is worthy of attention. Focusing on the Hallaquah, this essay demonstrates how students at the Seneca Indian School negotiated the demands and expectations of audiences with different and sometimes competing expectations in order to gain visibility and the authority to speak.
Whereas school authorities used school newspapers to promote the missions of their institutions and to showcase the transformation of “savages” into “civilized” students, the schoolgirl editors of the Hallaquah had different intentions. In their first editorial in the inaugural December 1879 issue, Johnson, Walker, and Jackson announced their plan to use the Hallaquah as a forum for serving their own interests and not strictly those of school authorities: “We desire and intend that the Hallaquah shall represent the spirit of our school and always speak in behalf of its interest.” They continued, “Supported directly by the Hallaquah Society, it yet is intended to be a true exponent of the Seneca, Shawnee, and Wyandotte Industrial Boarding School, and a news letter to the neighboring people as well as for the pupils.”3 Their commitment to using the Hallaquah as a vehicle for serving their community and preserving aspects of Native American cultures reflects a broader shift in how students learned to use the tools of the boarding school—their proficiency in English, access to new print technologies, and exposure to the dominant discourses on racial identity—to pose challenges, albeit often subtle ones, to the assimilative policies and practices of the boarding school.
The essay “Our Extermination,” which appeared on the front page of the August–November 1881 issue of the Hallaquah, exemplifies how the student editors sought to control representations of Indianness by engaging and manipulating in complex ways the racialized rhetoric of their day. In the essay, the students criticized an editorial titled “The Noble Red Man” that appeared in the Louisville [End Page 11] Commercial, calling it “a disgrace to respectable journalism”; as they explained, it denied “that our people had any right to the soil of this country, even before the birth of Columbus.” The students also criticized the writer for denying the humanity of Native peoples by intimating that they “now have no rights entitled to more respect than is accorded wild beasts.”4 The student editors refused to be victimized by the dominant discourses on race that circulated in the Commercial; by engaging with this rhetoric from an indigenous perspective, they gained control over how they and their peoples were represented in the periodical press.
The student editors used their criticism of the Commercial editorial to offer a broader critique of injustices perpetrated against Indians by whites: “We have been overridden by superior numbers and outraged by such characters as make up the Commercial; we have been driven from the lands made sacred to us by the graves of our ancestors, our homes and our all, at the point of the bayonet by just such heartless fiends, and, after all this we are told that we are the enemies of whites and deserve extermination.”5 By describing white oppressors as “heartless fiends,” they subvert the language of savagism at the same time that they underscore the oppression of Native peoples.
Their critique of colonial practices is complicated by their defense of “white friends” and their praise of the US government. Indeed, their detailing of stolen lands and bayonets loses some of its potency when juxtaposed with their description of the US government as a pillar of “justice, mercy, and peace.”6 That the students defended the “friends of the Indian” and praised the...