The University of Arizona

Diné (Navajo) Youth Experiences in Education from 1928 to 1946

Monique Yvette Davila


            In 1928, a group of researchers from the Brookings Institute released a report, The Problem of Indian Administration, popularly known as the Meriam Report, which heavily criticized the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), including the disturbing conditions of Native American boarding schools. This report led to significant changes in federal policies for Native Americans between 1928 to 1946. During the 1930s, newly appointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier and other progressive U.S. officials believed they knew how to adjust the “Indian Problem.” Their new policies however, greatly troubled some Native American communities, including the Diné. This paper argues that despite the fact that the Meriam Report praised some of the educational efforts made on the Navajo Reservation, the new assimilationist policies continued to hinder Diné youth education. Building on a rich scholarly literature on the history of Native American education and using historical research methods, this study analyzes archival primary documents to uncover and interpret Diné youth experiences during this era of changing U.S. federal policies of Native American education from 1928 to 1946. The documents analyzed included correspondence between various individuals such as U.S officials and school coordinators, letters and report cards from Diné students, school curricula, legal documents, and images. These archival records reveal the voices of Diné youth and their experiences during this time frame.

Full Text:



Adams, David Wallace. Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.

Bahr, Diana Meyers. The Students of Sherman Indian School: Education and Native Identity since 1892. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Berard Haile papers, 1893-1961. AZ 132. University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections, Tucson, Arizona.

Bertolozzi, Jessica L. “Environmental Programs and Material Culture: The 1934 Livestock Reduction Program and Weaving among the Navajo,” Research Papers, paper 195. 2012.

Day Family Collection, 1858-1977. NAU.MS.89, NAU.PH.120.1-88. Northern Arizona University Cline Library Special Collections, Flagstaff, Arizona.

Denetdale, Jennifer. Reclaiming Diné History: The Legacies of Navajo Chief Manuelito and Juanita. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.

Deyhle, Donna. "Navajo Youth and Anglo Racism: Cultural Integrity and Resistance." Harvard Educational Review 65, no. 3 (1995): 403.

Iverson, Peter. Diné: A History of the Navajos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.

Kelly, Lawrence C. The Navajo Indians and Federal Indian Policy, 1900-1935. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1968.

Lee, Lloyd. "Navajo Cultural Identity: What Can the Navajo Nation Bring to the American Indian Identity Discussion Table?" Wicazo Sa Review 21, no. 2 (2006): 79-103.

Lomawaima, Tsianina K. They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

The Meriam Report on Indian Administration and the Survey of Conditions of the Indians in the U.S. Archives Unbound. [Electronic Resource]. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, a Part of Cengage Learning, 2012.

Olson, James Stuart and Raymond Wilson. Native Americans in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.

Records of the Province of St. John the Baptist Franciscans, 1868-1978. AZ 500. University of

Arizona Special Collections, Tucson, Arizona.

Sakiestewa Gilbert, Matthew. Education Beyond the Mesas: Hopi Students at Sherman Institute, 1902-1929. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

Sheridan, Thomas E. Arizona: A History. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2012.

Sisquoc, Lorene, Jean A. Keller, and Clifford E. Trafzer. Boarding School Blues Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

Szasz, Margaret. Education and the American Indian the Road to Self-determination since 1928. 3rd Ed. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999

Trafzer, Clifford, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, and Lorene Sisquoc. The Indian School on Magnolia Avenue: Voices and Images from the Sherman Institute. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2012.

"Treaty with the Navaho, 1868." In Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Vol II, Treaties, compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler, 1015-20. Washington, DC: GPO, 1904.

Trennert, Robert A. The Phoenix Indian School: Forced Assimilation in Arizona, 1891-1935. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

Whalen, Kevin. Native Students at Work: American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute's Outing Program, 1900-1945. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016.