A living history

Sherman Institute marching band (1908), courtesy of the Sherman Indian Museum

Leigh J. Kuwanwisiwma of the Hopi Cultural Preservation Office once said to me that the Hopi boarding school experience is a “living history.” Some of the Hopis who attended boarding schools during the era of assimilation (1880s-1930s) are still with us today. Others are not, but their stories remain with their children and other family members. My grandfather, Victor Sakiestewa from Orayvi, attended Sherman from 1906 to 1909 and he played the clarinet in the school’s marching band. He was among the first Hopis to attend Sherman in the early twentieth century. Schools such as Sherman Institute, now called Sherman Indian High School, the Phoenix Indian School (“PI”), Stewart Indian School, Ganado Mission School, Santa Fe Indian School, and the Albuquerque Indian School, play an important role in Hopi history. The Hopi boarding school experience is indeed a “living history,” and by sharing and recording these stories we will help keep that history alive for Hopi and non-Hopi people. This conviction was a driving force behind the production of Beyond the Mesas.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

2 thoughts on “A living history

  1. My grandfather was Rex Sotero Sakiestewa. He was born in 1895 at Mishongnovi Village. When he went to Santa Fe Indian School, they changed his name to Calvert: Rex Sotero Calvert. There, he met my grandmother, Emilia Martinez, who was from Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo). Their children were Delfino, Francis, Marcelino, Edward, Andrea, and Cecilia, or, as I know and knew them, Uncle Del, Uncle Francis, Uncle Mars, Uncle John, and Aunt Cecilia. Andrea is my mom. When we would visit Tete (our word for grandfather) at then-called-San-Juan, he’d buy us RC Cola to drink. He’d joke “See this?” pointing to the “RC” on the bottles. He’d say it was “Rex Calvert” cola.

    When we were little, we went out to Hopi to visit family there. I was too young to remember the visit. My mom and dad tell us stories about that visit, about how someone went off on a burro and came back with peaches for us. My mom and dad go out there from time to time.

    My mom met my dad at Santa Fe Indian School when they were students there in the 50s. And I met my husband there in the 80s. I did not go to school there, but taught there in 1988 and 1989. My husband, George, was a teacher there, too.

    Debbie Reese
    Enrolled at Nambe, but part Hopi, too

  2. Debbie, thanks for your sharing this story! I hope others will do the same. Your comment about “peaches” reminds me of something Polingaysi Qoywayma talked about in No Turning Back. She mentioned that the day school teachers at Orayvi tried to explain to the Hopi kids that an orange was similar to a Hopi peach, except that it was much larger. I think that I will post about this at some point in the near future. And I should also note that you and I are family. All Sakiestewas are related to each other.

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