They Called It Prairie Light

SKU: 0803279574

K. Tsianina Lomawaima
Grade Levels:
Twelve, College, University
Multiple Nations
Book Type:
Nebraska Press
Copyright Date:

Sale price$41.95


They Called It Prairie Light The Story of Chilocco Indian School takes a detailed and personal look at a Native American boarding school from the period 1920-1940. The author is an anthropologist and a daughter of a graduate from the school. Her interest in the subject of Native American education is both professional and personal. In an effort to understand how Native children maintained their tribal identities while attending an assimilationist institution, the author conducted interviews with 61 alumni. The results of the interviews form the basis for the text. The author begins with a brief history of the Chilocco Indian School that opened in 1884 in Oklahoma, and remained in operation until the 1980s. The remaining chapters draw on the personal narratives of the men and women who attended the boarding school during the 1920 to 1940 period. The author believes these personal stories are in fact living archives that hold a key to understanding the residential school experience. The text covers recruitment, living conditions, vocational training for the boys and girls, relationships with administrative staff, discipline, and free-time activities. Within each chapter theme, the voice of the students remains strong and clear. Their recollections are only lightly edited and the author takes a minor role by allowing extensive quotations with little commentary. This is a unique approach to telling the story of residential school survivors (the author prefers the term alumni). She concludes that in spite of institutional pressures for changing identity, language, and behaviors, the students actively resisted, rejected, and formed strong cliques or gangs based on tribal affiliation and skin colour. These resilient students defined their school experiences by creative adaptation that in fact fostered a strong pan-Indian and tribal identity. As adults, the interviewees generally have fond memories of their school experience and many from this group have retained childhood friendships by joining the alumni association. The author has made a significant contribution to the literature on Native American boarding schools with this book that is obviously close to her heart. The text includes a brief biographical sketch of her father who attended the school from 1927-1935, appendices describing methodology, a bibliography, and an index.

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