- Survival Schools: The American Indian Movement and Community Education in the Twin Cities by Julie L. Davis
While researching the American Indian Movement (AIM), Julie L. Davis came across brief mentions of survival schools. Intrigued, she began to investigate this understudied topic. Histories of AIM generally cover the major events of the Red Power Movement, including the second Wounded Knee and the Trail of Broken Treaties, as well as prominent activists, such as Russell Means and Dennis Banks; both events and activists garnered extensive media attention. By studying the Red School House (St. Paul, 1972–1996) and Heart of the Earth (Minneapolis, 1972–2008) survival schools, Davis broadens scholarly topical coverage of AIM. Focus upon these schools allows Davis to integrate local community activism, as well as men, women, and children, into the larger narrative of the Red Power Movement in the second half of the twentieth century. Davis evaluates the survival schools as a positive development for the larger Twin Cities Indian community, but she is never sentimental about them. She chronicles the schools' achievements but also describes internal and external challenges faced by parents, students, teachers, and administrators.
Chapters 1 and 2 provide historical context that helps to explain the development of both AIM and the survival schools. Davis covers a brief history of government relations with Minnesota's indigenous populations, including treaties, removal, land loss, boarding schools, and the Dawes Act. When faced with loss of reservation lands, struggling reservation economies, and government programs of relocation, many Native families chose to move to Minneapolis and St. Paul, especially following World War II. In the cities, however, Indians still faced "multiple and interconnected problems," including poverty, police discrimination and harassment, and [End Page 145] disproportionate incarceration (27). In response to these pressing issues, activists created AIM; later, their focus expanded to include the larger issues of self-determination and community control.
A key part of AIM's activism in the Twin Cities also addressed issues faced by families, especially problematic public schools. Indian children had long confronted an educational system intent on erasing indigenous languages, culture, and religion particularly in late nineteenth-century federal boarding schools. Unfortunately, into the twentieth century, Indian children continued to face "high drop-out rates, low attendance and participation, poor academic achievement, and cultural alienation" in urban public schools (75). Outside of the schools, social services took Indian children from their parents in disproportionate numbers.
AIM activists worked to address these educational and social problems by creating two survival schools: the Red School House and Heart of the Earth. Davis's most interesting chapters (3 and 4) discuss these institutions. While the schools struggled to find funding and permanent locations, they also worked to implement their mission of "providing at-risk youth the opportunity for an education and keeping their families together" (100). Moreover, the survival schools empowered Native parents by making them integral to their children's education and the schools' existence. The schools' curriculum also empowered students by including classes on Native culture, oral tradition, and language. Similarly, students participated in political activism.
Chapter 5 discusses the schools' eventual closure. AIM usually is depicted as declining after the protests of the 1970s. However, both survival schools remained open for several decades, only closing recently in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to both external and internal factors. Through-out their long history, Davis argues, the "cultural components of the survival schools' curriculum had the most profound and far-reaching impact on their students" (198). Students also became more culturally, socially, and politically aware.
Native scholars today stress the importance of oral history. Davis delivers on this point by incorporating extensive oral histories into each of her chapters, including interviews with Pat Bellanger, Clyde Bellecourt, and Johnny Smith, all AIM activists and founders of the survival schools in Minnesota. Davis also includes extensive images from the schools' yearbooks, examples of students' work, and family photographs from the schools, which provide visual context for the oral histories. Finally, Davis consulted extensive...