Posts Tagged 'Indian boarding school'

Receive 20% off EDUCATION BEYOND THE MESAS

Receive 20% off each copy of Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929, if you order from the University of Nebraska Press. Mention promotion code 6AF10 to obtain the discount. For more information, please click on the following link to download the book’s promotional flyer: Education beyond the Mesas – flyer

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

A bronze coin for a Hopi alumna

Photo by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

In 2001, the Sherman Indian Museum had this bronze coin designed to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Sherman Institute (now called Sherman Indian High School). Before I conducted research on the Hopi Reservation, Lorene Sisquoc, director of the Sherman Indian Museum, gave me several of these coins to give to the Hopi alumni that I interviewed.

One of these former students was Bessie Humetewa from the village of Bacavi. She attended the school from 1920 to 1928.  Bessie also appears in Beyond the Mesas where she recalls that she stayed at Sherman “all eight years without coming home.”

At the time of the interview Bessie was blind, and so when I gave her the coin she examined it with her hands. Before I could tell her what was depicted on the coin, she said to me, “this is Sherman.”

She was able to discern the raised design of the school’s main building, the palm tree, and the superintendent’s office. The bronze coin reconnected Bessie to her alma mater. It took her back seventy-six years to when she last attended the Indian school in Riverside, California.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

“But we never spoke to each other” Elizabeth Mosier on the Phoenix Indian School

This evening I want to direct you to a blog post by novelist Elizabeth Mosier on the Phoenix Indian School. Much of what has been written about off-reservation Indian boarding schools is told from the perspective of Indian students or government officials. But non-Natives lived in the communities where the schools were located, and their perspectives about the students and schools are not often highlighted. On her blog, Mosier describes attending Central High School in Phoenix, which was right next to the Indian school. She occasionally saw the students from a distance, but never spoke to them, and they never spoke to her.

Mosier’s opening paragraph reminds me of the Preface to David Wallace Adams’ Education for Extinction. Adams begins his book by describing what it was like for him to drive past Sherman Institute as a kid – fascinated that “real” Indians went to school there. So take a few minutes and head on over to Mosier’s blog and read her post.

Hopis and Christmas at Indian schools

Over the years I have come across several documents and other sources, including children’s books and newspaper accounts, that involve Hopi students and Christmas at Sherman Institute and the Phoenix Indian School. Many Hopis at off-reservation Indian boarding schools looked forward to Christmas, but not every Hopi enthusiastically celebrated the holiday.

In the children’s book Climbing Sun (1980), Marjorie Thayer and Elizabeth Emanuel note that prior to Hubert Honanie’s first Christmas at Sherman in the late 1920s, the school’s superintendent, Frank M. Conser, mandated that students attend church the Sunday before Christmas day. While Hubert sat in the chapel service, he listened carefully to what the minister said about the birth of Jesus, but he did not see why this baby was so important. Hubert concluded that Christmas held little significance. Although he liked having the day off from school and he enjoyed eating the traditional Christmas food of turkey and cranberries, he would have “preferred stewed rabbit or mutton and corn” prepared according to Hopi custom.

By the 1930s the tradition of Christmas had become very popular among Hopi children on the reservation. In The Hopi Indians of Old Oraibi (1972), anthropologist Mischa Titiev observed that in December 1933, Hopi women walked to Kykotsmovi at the foot of Third Mesa to purchase Christmas presents for the Orayvi children. Titiev noted that several children had taken part in “Christmas programs” at places such as Sherman and the Phoenix Indian School, and several of their parents enjoyed giving them presents on Christmas. Afraid that the children would be disappointed if they did not receive gifts, the women purchased enough presents for each child in the village.

Although the Christmas tradition continues with many Hopis today, Hopis incorporate their culture into the holiday as well. Hopi artists demonstrate this through their art, and some Hopis, particularly those who belong to church congregations on the reservation, still sing Christmas carols in the Hopi language.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

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[Portions of this post were adapted from a newspaper article that I wrote titled “Christmas experiences at Sherman Institute and Phoenix Indian School”, Hopi Tutuveni, December 21, 2005, Issue 26, p. 6]

Hopis and earthquakes

When I screen Beyond the Mesas I enjoy taking questions from the audience. Some people ask me to explain more about the Orayvi Split, Chief Tawaquaptewa, or the reasons why the film makers produced the film. At a screening in the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois, Adelaide Aime asked me if there was anything that was not in the film that I wish we had included. This is a great question. The film producers spent a week on the Hopi Reservation to conduct interviews. We had many hours of material to work with, but due to time and budget constraints, we only used 35 minutes of the interviews in the final cut. One of the stories that I wish we had included in the film spoke to a unique occurence that Hopis experienced at Sherman Institute. Of the five people we interviewed who went to Sherman, two of these individuals talked about what it was like for them to experience an earthquake. Although I have written about Hopis and earthquakes at Sherman in my forthcoming book, it would have been great if these stories were also part of the film.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Thankful for teachers

Six years ago I came across a portion of a letter written by a Hopi student in the Sherman Bulletin, the official school newspaper of Sherman Institute. It was published in June 1909, right before a group of Hopis returned to the reservation after spending three years at the school. I first wrote about this letter in an article titled “The Hopi Followers: Chief Tawaquaptewa and Hopi Student Advancement at Sherman Institute, 1906-1909” (JAIE, Fall 2005). The following section seems fitting to post on Thanksgiving Day:

“We Hopis are about to leave Sherman. I will not forget my teachers, for they have been kind to me, and I will try to come back here next year.” (The Sherman Bulletin, June 16, 1909).

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


Copyright Notice

© Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS, 2009-2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert and BEYOND THE MESAS with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About the author

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert (Hopi) is Professor and Director of American Indian Studies and Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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New book on Hopi runners!

Revisiting the Hopi Boarding School Experience at Sherman Institute and the Process of Making Research Meaningful to Community (JAIE, 2018)

Education beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929 (University of Nebraska Press, 2010)

Introduction to Education beyond the Mesas (2010)

The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images From Sherman Institute (Oregon State University Press, 2012)

Foreward to Don Talayesva’s Sun Chief: An Autobiography of A Hopi Indian (2013)

Foreword to Kevin Whalen’s Native Students at Work: American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute’s Outing Program, 1900-1945

A Second Wave of Hopi Migration (HEQ, 2014)

Marathoner Louis Tewanima and the Continuity of Hopi Running, 1908-1912 (WHQ, 2012). Winner of Spur Award for Best Western Short Nonfiction, Western Writers of America (2013)

Hopi Footraces and American Marathons, 1912-1930 (AQ, 2010)

The Hopi Followers: Chief Tawaquaptewa and Hopi Student Advancement at Sherman Institute, 1906-1909 (JAIE, 2005)

Constitution and Bylaws of the Hopi Tribe (With all amendments, click to download)

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