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  • Battles, Syntheses, Revisions, and PropheciesHistories and Modernities in the Phoenix Indian School's Native American, 1901–1916
  • Jennifer Bess (bio)

Ever since the schools have been established and the Indians have come under the control of the government, most all have dropped our ways and have accepted the white man's ways. Today our race has given up not only its superstitious customs but also many of its legends and beautiful songs which we love so well.

They are of great value to us because they tell of the happiness, joys, longings and love of our people, as well as their hard struggles. Today in our homes some of us are not allowed to sing the Indian songs. If we do we are thought to be very impolite or rude. They prefer to hear us sing the English songs. Had the white people let the Pima have their dances and songs, like other tribes, the songs would be of more value to them than the white man's.

Lately the white people have begun to realize the beauty of our songs and legends and to urge us to write them.

—Emily Allison (Pima) in The Native American, 19091

Emily Allison's account of the Pima (Akimel O'odham) legend of Hauk, the witch of the mountain, provides its audience with much more than a story of its frightening protagonist: in the lengthy metanarrative cited above, Allison challenges the assimilationist agenda of the federal Indian boarding schools with the value she finds intrinsic to Indigenous ways of knowing. Published in the Phoenix Indian School's carefully edited periodical, The Native American, commencement speeches such as Allison's often reflect what James Scott calls the public transcript, which he defines as a "self-portrait of the dominant elites," in this case, validating the successes and righteousness of the Indian Office (18). Yet speeches like Allison's also confront the authority of this master narrative. Addressing [End Page 29] audiences composed of Indian Office employees, local Anglo residents, Phoenix Indian School alumni/ae, and a multitribal student body, she and her peers engaged in acts of resistance by defining their identities as boarding school students in ways that, to adapt a phrase from Scott Richard Lyons's X-Marks, connected new ideas to their own interests and objectives under conditions beyond their control (70). While few went on to become activists, community leaders such as George Webb (Pima, graduated in 1912) and Peter Blaine (Tohono O'odham, attended 1915–16), or widely read memoirists such as Webb and Anna Moore Shaw (Pima, graduated in 1916), all of them used their ability to read and write English to "transform the discourses into which they enter[ed]" and to critique and reinterpret Anglocentric historiography and its ethos of cultural superiority (Katanski 9).

Scholarship on the federal boarding schools has acknowledged the Carlisle Indian Industrial School's Red Man as a model instrument of propaganda and as a record of student learning. Daniel Littlefield and James Parins's reference work details what little context is known regarding the editorial control, student contributions, and printing process of The Red Man and its many heirs. Amelia Katanski, Jacqueline Fear-Segal, and Beth Haller deepen contemporary understanding of the forms of coercion and censorship typifying boarding school publications, which forced student to reproduce stereotypes supporting white supremacist ideologies. The recent studies of Cristina Stanciu and Amanda Zink add that, while "ventriloquizing institutional rhetoric" (Stanciu 37), students also managed to assert their individual and communal identities, their hopes for the future, and, in the words of Robert Allen Warrior, their "intellectual sovereignty" on the pages of school publications (Tribal Secrets 98). In K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa McCarty's terms, Phoenix Indian School commencement speeches and their publication supplied a modest "safety zone" where students were able to articulate their knowledge of Native American history, oral traditions, and local geography in "carved out spaces of Indian-ness" (74, 90). Accordingly, the following close reading of commencement speeches' engagement with these topics reveals the extent to which the students were able to stop seeing "through the eyes of a prejudiced white" and express "pride in our own Indian blood...


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