Pipestone: My Life in an Indian Boarding School

Feb 9th, 2012 | By | Category: 23-3: Technology and Culture, Media Reviews

PIPESTONE: MY LIFE IN AN INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLBy Adam Fortunate Eagle
University of Oklahoma Press (2010)

Review by Dr. Bradley Shreve

Adam Fortunate Eagle (Ojibwe) has made something of a habit of upsetting people. His new memoir, Pipestone, will undoubtedly bother lots of folks who believe unwaveringly that boarding schools were all bad. Fortunate Eagle attended Pipestone in southwestern Minnesota from 1935 to 1945—a time that coincided with John Collier’s radical changes in federal Indian policy.

To be sure, the author recognizes the harm that boarding schools historically inflicted on Native students. But he maintains that Collier’s liberal policies of cultural preservation and tribal sovereignty ushered in something of a “golden age” for Native education.

Fortunate Eagle speaks to us in the present tense, crafting an engaging narrative that draws in the reader. There are no chapters in the book, only a patchwork of memorable stories. He concludes his account with an epilogue, which traces the life stories of friends and family members who went on to achieve success after Pipestone. That success, the author maintains, was predicated on the lessons learned at Pipestone.

Recognizing that he will undoubtedly draw a hail of criticism, Fortunate Eagle—in characteristic fashion— states, “I will only listen to those individuals who are over 70 years of age and who were boarding school children themselves.” Touché.

Bradley Shreve, Ph.D., is chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division at Diné College. He is author of Red Power Rising: The National Indian Youth Council and the Origins of Native Activism

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