Girls Breaking Boundaries: Acculturation and Self-Advocacy at Chemawa Indian School, 1900–1930s

Publication: The American Indian Quarterly
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Complete article available: Project Muse

This article 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 a period of educational reform in which the long-standing emphasis on gendered vocational education for Indigenous youth became part of a national movement in public education. By demanding and actively seeking forms of education that fit their needs and desires, some female Indigenous students carved out spaces of maneuverability and access within and beyond the Chemawa campus. They negotiated these spaces to create greater opportunity for themselves. 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. The stories told here, by contrast, are examples of Indigenous youth turning toward education and actively negotiating for different options. Female students’ resistance at Chemawa took two distinct forms: advocacy for choice and advocacy for self-definition. These students advocated for themselves by negotiating both the curriculum and broader educational access, and their stories add depth and new angles to the historiography of Indigenous education in federally funded government boarding schools during this period. Their educational self-empowerment disrupted the boundaries of control that Office of Indian Affairs boarding schools sought to exert.