Arnold Krupat, Changed Forever: American Indian Boarding-School Literature 

By Maria Moss

The book’s cov­er says it all: It shows Apache stu­dents on their arrival at Carlisle Indi­an School in Penn­syl­va­nia, an off-reser­va­tion school thou­sands of miles away from the stu­dents’ homes in the south­west­ern Unit­ed States. The pho­to­graph at the bot­tom depicts the same stu­dents three years lat­er in 1889. What a dif­fer­ence! Where­as in 1886, the chil­dren were wear­ing shawls, robes, and pon­chos and had their hair done in dif­fer­ent styles – some even wear­ing hats – in the pho­to­graph below, every­one is dressed alike in what seems to be grey, woolen, very tight clothing.

The “Amer­i­can Indi­an prob­lem,” Arnold Kru­pat writes in his most recent book, Changed For­ev­er: Amer­i­can Indi­an Board­ing-School Lit­er­a­ture, per­mit­ted “only two solu­tions, exter­mi­na­tion or edu­ca­tion. Exter­mi­na­tion was cost­ly, some­times dan­ger­ous, and, too, it also seemed increas­ing­ly wrong.” The alter­na­tive was board­ing or off-reser­va­tion schools. Although count­less books and doc­u­men­taries describe the board­ing school sys­tem, rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle is known about how the chil­dren them­selves felt about their new envi­ron­ment, their dai­ly chores and school rou­tines. Kru­pat reme­dies this short­com­ing by plac­ing excerpts of those board­ing school nar­ra­tives in the appro­pri­ate cul­tur­al and his­tor­i­cal context.

Begin­ning in the sec­ond half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, Native chil­dren were – almost always forcibly – tak­en to board­ing schools, some close by, some far away. In these schools that were often run like mil­i­tary acad­e­mies (replete with cor­po­re­al pun­ish­ment), the chil­dren were nei­ther allowed to speak their Native lan­guages nor wear tra­di­tion­al cloth­ing or prac­tice their trib­al cus­toms. Instead, they had to learn to live by the bell, march to the whis­tle, and get used to names, such as Tom, George, and Sal­ly. Pur­su­ing an “Eng­lish only” pol­i­cy that was to “kill the Indi­an and save the man,” these schools were instru­men­tal in erad­i­cat­ing Native culture.

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The auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal texts Kru­pat dis­cuss­es in great detail give us the real sto­ry writ­ten by the stu­dents them­selves, their feel­ings, their fears and hopes. For some stu­dents, writ­ing about their expe­ri­ences meant com­ing to terms with a dif­fi­cult peri­od of their lives; for some, it meant remem­ber­ing cer­tain aspects with fond­ness, such as meet­ing chil­dren from dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al back­grounds and learn­ing a new lan­guage. For every one of these Hopi, Apache, and Nava­jo chil­dren, how­ev­er, it meant leav­ing the life they had pre­vi­ous­ly known. As such, Changed For­ev­er is a must-read for every­one inter­est­ed in the real sto­ry behind the board­ing school system.


Arnold Kru­pat, Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus at Sarah Lawrence Col­lege, is one of the most influ­en­tial and orig­i­nal schol­ars work­ing in Native Amer­i­can Stud­ies today. He is the author of many books, includ­ing For Those Who Come After (1989), The Voice in the Mar­gin: Native Amer­i­can Lit­er­a­ture and the Canon (1989), The Turn to the Native (1998), Red Mat­ters (2002), and “That the Peo­ple Might Live”: Loss and Renew­al in Native Amer­i­can Ele­gy (2012). Kru­pat is a recip­i­ent of six fel­low­ships from the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Human­i­ties and has also held a Ful­bright Fel­low­ship as well as a Woodrow Wil­son Fel­low­ship and a Guggen­heim Fellowship.

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