As a young child, Dr. Gilbert lived in Albuquerque. His father, a PhD in Education, “academized” him starting at a young age. He job-shadowed his father in college and decided he wanted to teach when he grew up. In 2006, Dr. Gilbert was finishing up his dissertation on Hopi boarding schools at the University of California-Riverside. (He had enrolled to study European Medieval history, originally, to become a German historian.)
His interviews began at the reservation where he learned about the boarding school experience imposed on his grandfather and other Native American children in the early 1900s. His grandfather was sent to Sherman Institute. It was there that Native Americans were enrolled for at least eight years or had to pay to go home. Since most families did not have money to bring their children home… they stayed. Students lived on rationed food. They could leave to buy food outside of school, but again very few were sent any money. They were punished if caught speaking in their native languages, such as Hopi.
“White men kill those that don’t agree with him.” Dr. Gilbert’s film Beyond the Mesas is a beautiful compiled narrative of Hopi people that were forced into boarding schools. For the Hopi to survive as a culture, they were forced to learn the language and ways of the white men so they could coexist. Boarding school children lost parenting skills and Hopi traditions. Today, Hopi boarding schools encourage students to speak Hopi, instead of punishing them. They survived assimilation in the past and Hopi traditions continue to live on: they kept the best of both worlds.
Melanie E Magdalena