Clements Center Monthly Talks

Farina King

The Mountains Beyond the School Walls: Diné Struggles over Íina (Life) and Education in the Leupp Incident of 1957

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 | Room 100, Hyer Hall,  6424 Robert S. Hyer Lane  |  12 noon to 1:00 pm


“The Mountains Beyond the School Walls” stems from Clements Center fellow Farina King’s current project on Diné schooling experiences on the Navajo reservation during the twentieth century. King’s hybrid methodological approach relies on the Diné intellectual process of the Four Sacred Directions, Navajo language, ethnohistory, and cultural history to frame the transitions in various Diné student experiences. Many scholars in Native American Studies emphasize Indigenous approaches and paradigms to research and develop narratives. The philosophy of Diné elders, who followed a worldview that valued the teachings of each cardinal direction and corresponding sacred mountain, guides King’s journey to understand the impacts of on-reservation federal boarding schools on her family and people.

This presentation represents E’e’aah or the West in King’s narrative of Diné student experiences, which symbolizes a time of maturity and íina (life). The E’e’aah/West features Diné educational experiences after World War II, between 1945 and 1965. This presentation examines the postwar school developments and student experiences in the western area of the reservation, centered on Leupp, Arizona and surrounding communities near the mountain of the West, Dook’o’ooslííd (San Francisco Peaks). Increasingly more Navajo students attended schools for their education, both denominational and governmental institutions, which accelerated effects of American schooling on Diné families and communities. Navajos continued to receive an education distant from their home and ancestral teachings, which perpetuated colonial affronts to their peoplehood. “The Mountains Beyond the School Walls” delves into the misfortunes of Navajo girls during an influenza epidemic that hit the Old Leupp Boarding School in 1957, tracing the dynamics between the school and Diné community that shaped Diné student experiences and lives. The “Leupp incident,” as government officials called the tragedy, offers a glimpse into the ways that Navajo communities sought to regain control, protect íina (life), and restore hózhǫ́—  beauty and harmony— in Diné education.

Farina King is this year's David J. Weber Fellow for the Study of Southwestern America at the Clements Center.  She received her Ph.D. in American history at Arizona State university and is on leave from her position as assistant professor history at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, while she spends the academic year at SMU.

Image courtesy Farina King: The San Francisco Peaks from the grounds of the Old Leupp Boarding School, 2015.