Posts Tagged 'Native women'

The search for Polingaysi Qoyawayma

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

1920s photo of Hopi girls at Sherman Institute

I was once asked how many photos and other images we included in Beyond the Mesas. I do not know the exact number, but it had to have been over a hundred. Some of these photos came from people who we interviewed for the film, others we uncovered at various archives. One of these photos was of a group of Hopi girls at Sherman Institute during the 1920s. I came across this picture in the Veva Wight Collection at the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, California. Wight was a Protestant missionary who led Bible studies and other Christian activities at the school. She worked as a “Religious Worker” at Sherman for more than thirty years. Although government officials allowed Christianity at Sherman to encourage the assimilation of Indian students, some Hopi girls had a genuine committment or interest in the Christian faith.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

Remembering Polingaysi Qoyawayma

Nineteen years ago on December 6, 1990, Polingaysi Qoyawayma (Elizabeth Q. White), passed away with family at her side in Phoenix, Arizona. Born in 1892, Polingaysi was from the village of Orayvi on Third Mesa, and she is perhaps best known for her book (as told to Vada Carlson) No Turning Back: A Hopi Woman’s Struggle to Live in Two Worlds. I never had the honor of meeting Polingaysi, but her story is often told among our people. In November 1906, shortly after an internal dispute in her village, Polingaysi left by wagon with a group of Hopi children to the small town of Winslow, Arizona. From there she boarded a Santa Fe train to San Bernardino, California, then traveled south to Sherman Institute in Riverside. She experienced a different life in the “land of oranges,” and she wrote at length about her time at Sherman in No Turning Back. After spending almost three years at the school, Polingaysi returned to Orayvi and found it difficult to acclimate to reservation life. She eventually became the first Hopi to teach at a Hopi day school, and she encouraged her students to take the best of Hopi and American culture to succeed as a people. Although Polingaysi is often associated with No Turning Back, she also wrote a second book in 1941 titled The Sun Girl, which was illustrated by Hopi artist Komoki. In this children’s book, Polingaysi retells a story of a young girl named Dawamana (“Sun Maiden” or “Sun Girl”) from Orayvi who learns the Butterfly Dance at the village of Moencopi. In the foreword to the book’s 1978 edition, Robert Breunig of the Museum of Northern Arizona notes that “Mrs. Qoyawayma told this story many times to her school children. They became so enthralled with it that they asked that it be repeated again and again, and they learned it almost word for word, correcting deviations from one telling to the next. Finally, Mrs. Qoyawayma wrote the story down in the hope that all children would enjoy it.” Nineteen years after her passing, Polingaysi’s life and work are still remembered. She is one of the most revered teachers and writers in Hopi history, and her example and words continue to have great meaning and relevance for those in the present.

Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert


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© 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 Head of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona.

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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)

Click to listen to KUYI On-Line

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