Indian Play: Indigenous Identities at Bacone College

Indian Play: Indigenous Identities at Bacone College

Language: English

Pages: 400

ISBN: 0803240996

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


When Indian University—now Bacone College—opened its doors in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) in 1880, it was a small Baptist institution designed to train young Native Americans to be teachers and Christian missionaries among their own people and to act as agents of cultural assimilation. From 1927 to 1957, however, Bacone College changed course and pursued a new strategy of emphasizing the Indian identities of its students and projecting often-romanticized images of Indianness to the non-Indian public in its fund-raising campaigns. Money was funneled back into the school as administrators hired Native American faculty who in turn created innovative curricular programs in music and the arts that encouraged their students to explore and develop their Native identities. Through their frequent use of humor and inventive wordplay to reference Indianness—“Indian play”—students articulated the (often contradictory) implications of being educated Indians in mid-twentieth-century America. In this supportive and creative culture, Bacone became an “Indian school,” rather than just another “school for Indians.”

In examining how and why this transformation occurred, Lisa K. Neuman situates the students’ Indian play within larger theoretical frameworks of cultural creativity, ideologies of authenticity, and counterhegemonic practices that are central to the fields of Native American and indigenous studies today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

124 15. Bacone Indian Club, 1942–43 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 16. Earl Riley in later life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130 17. Program cover, commencement exercises, 1948 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 18. Francis W. Thompson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 19. Cartoon and plea for new bus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

William McCombs, the House of Warriors voted on Bacone’s petition, which they had earlier set aside, and approved it by a narrow margin of thirty-nine to thirty-five.60 In persuading his colleagues, Principal Chief Checote argued that relocating Indian University to Muskogee would ensure that the Creeks could educate their sons closer to home instead of paying to send them by rail to eastern colleges and seminaries. Furthermore, he argued that the Creeks would be able to educate their daughters

southeastern tribes that had a history of intermixture with blacks. This aspect of students’ identities was acknowledged in students’ interactions with each other and in extracurricular activities. In 1950 it was not necessarily clear to the ABHMS how Bacone’s Indian students would respond to attempts to open the school to blacks. In the past, the school’s American Baptist leadership had shown some concern about black students attending Bacone. In May 1921, letters exchanged between Bruce Kinney

symbolically transformed into an opposition between traditional tribal cultures (often viewed as backward and “primitive”) and European and European American societies, considered to represent “Civilization” (with a capital “C”). In the late nineteenth century, theories of social evolution dominated understandings of the place of indigenous peoples in an industrializing world. In his book Ancient 8 Introduction Society, American ethnologist Lewis Henry Morgan theorized that all human groups

Most importantly, in between their public performances as the Singing Redmen, their formal studies, work, and their campus routines, Bacone’s Indian students created a unique peer culture that articulated and engaged the meanings of being Indian in mid-twentieth-century America. At Bacone, students had an unusual amount of freedom to publicly articulate the meanings of being Indian. As we will see, during the mid-twentieth century the school not only produced groups like the Singing Redmen but

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