Native Students at Work

American Indian Labor and Sherman Institute's Outing Program, 1900-1945

Kevin Whalen
Foreword by Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert

  • Published: 2016. Paperback October 2018
  • Subject Listing: Native American and Indigenous Studies; History / Western History; Education
  • Bibliographic information: 224 pp., 20 bandw illus., 2 maps, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Indigenous Confluences
  • Contents

Native Students at Work tells the stories of Native people from around the American Southwest who participated in labor programs at Sherman Institute, a federal Indian boarding school in Riverside, California. The school placed young Native men and women in and around Los Angeles as domestic workers, farmhands, and factory laborers. For the first time, historian Kevin Whalen reveals the challenges these students faced as they left their homes for boarding schools and then endured an "outing program" that aimed to strip them of their identities and cultures by sending them to live and work among non-Native people. Tracing their journeys, Whalen shows how male students faced low pay and grueling conditions on industrial farms near the edge of the city, yet still made more money than they could near their reservations. Similarly, many young women serving as domestic workers in Los Angeles made the best of their situations by tapping into the city's Indigenous social networks and even enrolling in its public schools. As Whalen reveals, despite cruel working conditions, Native people used the outing program to their advantage whenever they could, forming urban indigenous communities and sharing money and knowledge gained in the city with those back home.

A mostly overlooked chapter in Native American and labor histories, Native Students at Work deepens our understanding of the boarding school experience and sheds further light on Native American participation in the workforce.
Kevin Whalen is assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota, Morris.

"The first book-length study of an Indian boarding school outing program, Native Students at Work makes a major contribution to this emerging area of historical scholarship."
-Victoria Haskins, author of Matrons and Maids: Regulating Domestic Service in Tucson, 1914-1934

"A significant addition to the studies of twentieth-century American Indian history, particularly in the areas of education, labor, and migration."
-Nicolas Rosenthal, author of Reimagining Indian Country: Native American Migration and Identity in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles

"By placing Indian work at the center of a story of migration, schooling, and the often (and rightly) maligned outing program, Kevin Whalen extends our understanding of the boarding school experience. Native Students at Work balances an appreciation for structural limitations imposed by colonialism with careful attention to the stirrings of Indian agency to reconfigure our understanding of the relationships between the outing system, migration, urbanization, and the survival of Indigenous communities and cultures."
-Brian Hosmer, University of Tulsa