They Called It Praire Light is the book by Tsianina Lomawaima about Chilocco Indian School that was first opened in 1884 with about 150 pupils from 17 Indian tribes. It was one of the best examples of the federal government’s experiment in educating Indian children in off-reservation boarding schools. In 1894 Chilocco graduated its first class of nine girls and six boys. The school’s last graduating calls with 24 children graduated in 1980. The school consisted of 35 buildings, where a total of 1,200 students lives and learned.
Between September 1983 and March 1984, Tsianina Lomawaima interviewed her father and 60 other Chilocco graduates – 25 men and 36 women who went there or worked there during 1920s and 1930s.
Off-reservation boarding schools have long been a symbol of foolish and injurious federal policy aimed to conquer and destroy the first nations of America and then assimilate their people. Only recently scholars have studied these institutions and found their influence on people who were students there. The book by Lomawaima is one of such studies.
The book starts with a great survey of federal Indian education and its interest in boarding schools from 1880s to 1930s. A short history of Chilocco school presented in the book describes the main hallmarks of such institutions – prohibition to talk in native language and use tribal religion, vocational and domestic education, military regiment, and outing system, which sent to work in non-Indian families.
In the book Lomawaima focuses on the lives of students that were strictly controlled in many ways. Lomawaima managed to reconstruct the life of the school in the 1920s and 1930s, its meaning and significance by letting her interviewers to speak for themselves. Lomawaima masterfully interlaced their statements together, interfering only when there is a need to explain or summarize certain facts.
The book amazingly shows daily experiences and routines of the students. In addition, the book studies different experiences of girls and boys, students from eastern and western tribes, full- and mixed-bloods. The interviewers shared their memories on when they first attended the school, the period they entered and the policies applied at the time, as well as family background.
Lomawaima depicts Chilocco school as something horrible, but also as something marvelous, because it describes the unity of students and how they went through all the ‘teachings’. Lomawaima managed to capture the true picture of Chilocco, that is why the book will be very useful for everybody interested in Native American culture.
They Called It Praire Light is the book by Tsianina Lomawaima about Chilocco Indian School that was first opened in 1884 with about 150 pupils from 17 Indian tribes. It was one of the best examples of the federal government’s experiment in educating Indian children in off-reservation boarding schools. In 1894 Chilocco graduated its first class of nine girls and six boys.