John Bloom. To Show What an Indian Can Do: Sports at Native American Boarding Schools, Sports and Culture Series, vol. 2. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) 151 pp. Illustrated. $24.95 . Hardcover.
Although the culture of the Carlisle Indian School may be well known among historians, the popular sports media's history has perhaps a more selective memory for the football, track and other competitive teams for which Native Americans ardently participated before the 1950s. Recent commemorative sport shows for "millennium athletes" seemed to be covered with more modern-day athletes with few of the early parts of the twentieth century (as many commemorative efforts are apt to do). However, there were many great Native American athletes and teams in the first half of the century in scholastic sports as To Show What an Indian Can Do displays. Though sports such as football were introduced by Native American boarding schools as a method for assimilating students into mainstream white culture (and erasing their native heritage) -something one may expect to have caused a lethargic lack of participation in the activity the sports instilled immense competition and pride among its students (p. xii). The main drive of Bloom's book is to explore how Native American students not only excelled at these sports, but participated in them out of pleasure and as a way of formulating an identity for themselves as their native heritage eroded away (p. xii). Parents, who were often the most resistant to their children losing their native heritage through attendance at these schools, discouraged attendance at first, but by the Great Depression encourage it, simply because life for their children would be better away from the reservations' wretched conditions. Another focus of .. . What an Indian Can Do is the coverage of Victorian ideals at these boarding schools. Boys were encouraged to compete in team sports, show individualism and be energetic, while women students were to rest, be at home, be quiet, and participate in more physical education "activities" (rather than team sports). These ideals not only limited competition for women, but speak volumes of boarding school administrations' enforcement of Victorian ideals well into the twentieth century as a way of life.