Date of Award

Summer 2019

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Joshua Haynes

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Andrew Haley

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Douglas Chambers


The failure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to successfully assimilate Native Americans, especially Native children through education tactics such as boarding schools, led to a shift in the mid-twentieth century for pro-Indian reform. From the 1930s through the 1950s, BIA education reformers pursued progressive education. They imagined progressive education would allow the BIA to use Native American traditions and culture to educate and mold Native students into modern contributing American citizens. To appeal to students, the BIA commissioned a series of educational materials, primarily children’s books, designed to use Native culture to teach children how to adapt to life in modern America. Despite the BIA’s decision to move away from assimilation tactics and incorporate Native culture into the classroom, white officials still manipulated and Americanized Native culture.

This study examines how these materials undermined Native culture and promoted whiteness in Navajo, Sioux, and Mississippi Choctaw communities, under the false pretenses of uplifting and celebrating Native traditions. This thesis extends the discussion of Native American assimilation and education in the mid-twentieth century through a thorough investigation of education materials, and the vocal Native response to education policy. A collection of primary sources ranging from assimilation-driven education materials, like The Indian Life Readers Collection, along with native written documents from the National Congress of American Indians, enhances the historical value and contribution of this study. While literature and anthropological scholars have addressed these materials, no scholarly historical perspective has investigated the use of these educational materials.