Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 325-326
"I did not send Her there to be an Irish washerwoman," wrote the angry Indian father of a student forced to work in the Haskell school laundry in 1888. Such expressive words-especially striking to an Irish reviewer-characterize this major study of the Indian boarding school at Lawrence, Kansas. Founded in 1884, it is the only such institution to evolve into a four-year university, Haskell Indian Nations University. Myriam Vuckovic draws wonderfully well on Indian evidence: letters and other texts by students, reminiscences by ex-students, and contemporaneous correspondence by kin. Opinions of educators are not ignored either. The result is an evenhanded account of the school, its students and staff, weaknesses and strengths, during the nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury assimilationist educational campaign.
Adopting "a constructionist approach to the understanding of ethnicity and culture," Vuckovic moves both chronologically and thematically. She outlines U.S. government policy: to Americanize Indians as Christian citizens. In rich detail she then examines why young Indians of many Great Plains tribes, and others, began to attend. She recounts their first experiences of the school, its regimentation ("the bell"), its curriculum (secular and religious), its impressively varied recreations and rituals, and its often inadequate concern with student health. She highlights the complicated nature of student accommodation and resistance, and suggests how unpredictably diverse "life after Haskell" could be for its alumni.