Brenda J. Child examines how the American government subjected Ojibwe and other American Indian students of the upper Midwest to the assimilationist process in the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota, Haskell Institute in Kansas, and other Indian boarding schools in the early years of this century. Although Child covers some of the same Indian school topics discussed by other historians, including assimilation, poor living conditions, and military regimentation, she also provides new views of the Indian boarding school experience.
First she taps into an overlooked source: “boarding school letters” written by Indian students, Indian parents, and school officials. The Indian letters give the reader much information about student motives and initiatives, including why some ran away. Their reasons included dissatisfaction with school food, being required to do campus labor, being poorly treated by teachers, and, of course, homesickness’s. Equally important, the letters show Indian parental reactions, including anger after learning that they were not informed about their children’s sicknesses and other problems. By using Indian letters in particular, Child presents a Native American account that differs from the version found in other Indian educational histories, which relied heavily upon accounts written by administrators, teachers, and other school employees. The author also shows that Indian families and their children at the schools remained linked by letters even though they were separated by physical distance. Thus she accurately subtitles her book “American Indian Families.” Child’s use of Indian letters, which she labels the “moccasin telegraph,” should encourage other historians to utilize this overlooked source.