When I first approached the Undisciplined Research Project, I set out to study the relationship between Indian boarding schools and Native artistic traditions. I hoped to find that Native American students continued to practice their traditional arts at the boarding schools. I was surprised, however, that this was often not the case.
For my work as a researcher in the Autry’s Undisciplined Research Project, I had the privilege of studying the Autry’s collections of American Indian boarding school material with specific focus on the interviews in The Cante Sica Boarding School Stories archive. My work gave me the opportunity not only to learn from the first-person journeys of various tribal members but also to examine student poetry and art, as well as artifacts and pamphlets from the boarding schools.
On the morning of October 25, 1918, a Southern Pacific train crept into the San Xavier American Indian Reservation station south of Tucson, Arizona. As the wheels screeched against the tracks, slowing the train’s momentum, reservation superintendent T. F. McCormick awaited its freight. Beside him, a woman later watched as men lowered a coffin carrying her son’s body to the platform.
From its inception in 2002, the Autry’s Institute for the Study of the American West strove to bring the most exciting scholarship, much of it produced by professors at universities, into the exhibitions, publications, and programs of the Autry. In carrying out this mission over the past twelve years, the Institute has helped bridge the divide that had grown up between academy and museum. But the creation of connections has not always been smooth, owing to the differences in how professors and museum professionals think and work.
As many of you know, Native Voices is the resident theatre company of the Autry National Center of the American West. We are currently celebrating our twentieth anniversary of developing and producing plays by Native writers, and for fifteen of those years we have proudly done so at the Autry. During that time span we have developed close to 200 new theatre works and mounted seventeen world premieres. Blessed with a large and amazing pool of talented Native actors and theatre artists, Native Voices at the Autry has brought greater authenticity to the portrayal of Native peoples on stage.
The Cante Sica Foundation’s Boarding School Stories visual histories are invaluable additions to the Libraries and Archives of the Autry’s collections related to Indian boarding schools. They unite past experiences with present perspectives, adding an additional layer of knowledge to a topic too often rooted solely in a historical point of view. Together with the contextualization provided by other library and archival materials, they allow researchers the opportunity to more fully explore a lived experience. And by ensuring the accessibility of the personal narratives of individuals brave and generous enough to share their voices, earlier printed research materials join with the present through the vibrant, living element of contemporary voices.
There are moments in your life that alter your perceptions and relationships. Most of us are aware of these moments only in retrospect. However, on a few special occasions, sometimes, just sometimes, we can feel the shift as it is actually occurring. This happened to me in February 2013.
In 2012, a film that Randy Vasquez directed and I produced, called The Thick Dark Fog, was broadcast nationwide on PBS. The film tells the story of Lakota elder Walter Littlemoon’s journey of healing from his American Indian boarding school experiences. During the production of the film, we spoke to many Native elders who had gone to boarding school. We came to believe that all school survivors and alumni who want to tell their stories should have an opportunity to do so, not only for their own healing, but also for the benefit of future generations. Learning about the Native American boarding school experience from those who lived it will be one of the most important ways to understand this complex and sometimes devastating history. Out of this vision, the Boarding School Stories visual history archive was born.
With this post, I am excited to initiate a new blog feature focused on the Autry’s Institute for the Study of the American West. The Institute is the research wing of the Autry National Center, and its mission has long been to advance scholarship about the West and facilitate the application of this work in diverse public platforms. The Institute is largely organized around the Libraries and Archives of the Autry, but also includes the Autry’s Publications Department, as well as Native Voices at the Autry, the institution’s resident theatre company.
Earlier this year, we posted a lemon meringue pie recipe from the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Archives. This recipe from the Archives and its charming story made me wonder, could I conjure up some pie magic of my own?