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A Graveyard of Good Intentions: Sentimental Violence in U.S. Education

Lydia R Presley, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation addresses the genocidal practices of the U.S. educational policies in connection to the Indian boarding schools and the problematic method through which white scholars and teachers have aided in the erasure of Indigenous cultures and violence against Indigenous bodies. Through a discussion of my own background and growth away from fundamentalist Christianity, I argue that whiteness, femininity, and Christianity help shape what Kyla Schuller describes as “the biopolitics of sentimentalism.” I argue for a different approach to teaching Black Elk Speaks that addresses whiteness in the Indigenous studies classroom by arguing that John G. Neihardt is an example of the problematic “literary ally.” In a similar fashion, I detail how the women of the late 19th and early 20th-century contributed to the United States’ violent history of assimilation through their roles in the Indian boarding school system. I connect Neihardt and the white women involved in boarding schools to violence through sentimentalism and romanticism that forms an imperialistic path for education in both the classroom as well as for an audience wishing to consume Indigenous literatures. This dissertation also looks at the community Indigenous children at the Genoa Indian Industrial School through the school-published newspaper, the Pipe of Peace. Drawing on Gerald Vizenor’s concept of survivance, evident in the constant resistance and cultural survival of Indigenous students, I connect the work being done through the Pipe as an act of survivance and what Powell et al. call “cultural rhetorics.” It is through the creation of a specific community at Genoa involving the interaction between several smaller communities that created an environment rich with stories of survival, humor, strength, and resistance. Finally, this dissertation offers an example of ways through which we can identify different types of sovereignty in the texts we choose and how to hold productive discussions that de-center whiteness while also understanding the great need there is to identify it in our conversations.

Subject Area

Ethnic studies|Education history|Native American studies|Cultural anthropology|American history|American literature

Recommended Citation

Presley, Lydia R, "A Graveyard of Good Intentions: Sentimental Violence in U.S. Education" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI28418300.