Girls’ Vocational Education at Chemawa Indian School 1900-1930s: A Story of Acculturation and Self-Advocacy
Wellington, Rebecca Christine
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation focuses on female student experiences at Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon between 1900 and the 1930s. It examines the broader meaning and significance of the federally-funded boarding school education provided to Indigenous female students at Chemawa during this period of educational reform in which the long-time emphasis on gendered vocational education for Indigenous youth, reinforced by the settler colonial paradigm of a strict sexual division of labor, became part of a broader movement in public education nationally. This movement strongly reinforced restrictive gender roles and was philosophically justified by its proponents based on influential theories of social efficiency and social evolution of the period. By demanding forms of education that fit their needs and desires and actively seeking these forms of education, some female Indigenous students carved out spaces of maneuverability and access within and beyond the Chemawa campus. Female students helped negotiate the malleability of this space and used it as a launch pad for greater opportunity. Chemawa female students’ resistance took two distinct forms: advocacy for choice and self-definition. Many existing stories of Indigenous youth resistance in education--including those told by David Wallace Adams, K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Theresa McCarty--are stories of students turning away from schools. By contrast, the stories of female student advocacy at Chemawa told here are examples of Indigenous youth turning toward education and actively negotiating for different options. Their resistance was to a restrictive vocational curriculum, not to education itself. The period of this study, between 1900 and the 1930s, marked a fascinating time in federal perceptions of Indian education through assimilation. This was the heyday of government off-reservation Indian boarding schools. By 1931, twenty nine percent of Indian children in school were in government boarding schools. This period is also described by Frederick Hoxie as the ‘second phase’ in the assimilation program in which the US Government aimed at incorporating Indigenous peoples into the American society, but not on equal terms as whites. Sex-segregated vocational education in off-reservation Indian boarding schools was an essential component of this assimilationist program that sought to shape Indigenous identity in a fashion that would be both useful and non-threatening to white American society. In this second phase of assimilation, prejudices against Indigenous lifeways came to define policy that did not seek to equalize Indigenous people, but rather firmly position them in subservient societal roles. By seeking out secondary and higher education, and professional education that offered paths to financial independence, female Chemawa students defined how they would pilot themselves and their people in the changing world. Part of this self-advocacy was challenging educational policy, which attempted to force them into narrowed fields of work. To some extent, Chemawa school leaders and BIA agents tried to respond to these demands on the part of female students by negotiating additional opportunities for some of the school’s most successful self-advocates. In the end, however, these local administrative efforts to accommodate female student demands and aspirations, proved limited in scope and duration. In keeping with policies at the federal level during the Depression, Chemawa, like other BIA schools reinforced a narrow definition of appropriate education for Indigenous female students even as a number of students themselves sought more “mainstream” opportunities. The stagnation of the Chemawa curricula during this period represented the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ resistance to the changing role Indigenous youth were advocating for in broader society. It also represented the entrenchment of a social efficiency educational paradigm that resisted the changing roles women were playing in the labor market. The way Indigenous girls perceived their role in the changing Industrial world flew in the face of a social efficiency educational paradigm which tried to relegate them to positions of un-paid or low-paid domestic labor. The educational self-empowerment of these Indigenous girls disrupted the perceived boundaries of control of Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools as well as threatened the intentions of the settler colonial paradigm, a paradigm which was designed to weaken Indigenous identities and disenfranchise Indigenous people.
- Education - Seattle