When I started researching on the Hopi boarding school experience at Sherman Institute, I thought for sure that I would come across many references of Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White) at the Sherman Indian Museum. She is, after all, one of the school’s most famous alums. I looked in the Sherman Bulletin, the school’s student-written newspaper. I examined various letterpress books and other school records, but I never came across her name.
While conducting research at the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, California, I uncovered a file with a name similar to Polingaysi Qoyawayma written on the tab. I thought I found the documents that I had been searching for. But when I examined the records closely I discovered that the file belonged to someone else.
In an attempt to find clues that would lead me to archival information on Qoyawayma, I reread Don Talayesva’s autobiography Sun Chief. Talayesva and Qoyawayma attended Sherman at the same time. They both came from Orayvi and likely traveled with each other to the school in November 1906. But nowhere in Talayesva’s book does he mention her name.
Fortunately, one does need to depend on Talayesva or an archive to learn about Qoyawayma’s experience at the Indian school in Riverside. Although the archival record may appear to be silent, at least in reference to her time at Sherman, her story remains with her family, others who knew her, and in her book No Turning Back.
The documents that I searched for may never surface. They may not even exist. But Qoyawayma has already shared with us about her school days at Sherman Institute. She has already provided us with the archive, the documents, and the narrative of her life.
Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert