Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Summer 2008


Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 3, Summer 2008, pp. 241.


Copyright 2008 by the Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


As they trace the shifts in United States government Indian policy over the course of a century, K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty develop a theoretical framework they label "the safety zone" as a way to explain the continuing conflict over the issue of cultural difference in educational settings. Drawing on extensive archival material, the authors illustrate convincingly how educational policies and practices have reflected the federal government's attempt to make a distinction between "safe" and "dangerous" Indigenous beliefs and practices.

Using Western cultural norms as the standard against which to measure Indigenous ways of being, the government might, for example, sanction children's stories or women's arts and crafts. It might also recognize or tolerate entire tribal groups, if these groups produce marketable artistic works that enable them to be economically stable. Outside that safety zone lie such dangers as Native languages and spiritual practices, including music and songs intimately connected to religious experiences. Efforts to preserve Native ways of life are typically enacted only when those languages or traditions are believed to be nearly extinct and no longer threatening.