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From Assimilating Native American Culture to Honoring It

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When it opened in 1902, the Sherman Institute’s purpose was to assimilate Native American children and eradicate their culture. It was started in Riverside, California to train Native children of all ages to work as laborers and domestics. But today, Sherman Indian High School prepares Native teens for college and careers and takes pride in honoring their Native culture.

The University of California Riverside’s (UCR) American Indian Studies Program has been studying the school’s history and evolution and will present their findings during a day-long research symposium May 11. The symposium will not only explore the Sherman Institute’s history, but it will also commemorate the American Indian Studies Program’s 20th anniversary at UC Riverside.

“Over the years we’ve had this wonderful relationship, with our students doing their Ph.D. work and some master’s work at Sherman,” said Clifford Trafzer, professor of history and the Rupert Costo Chair in American Indian Affairs, in a release announcing the event. “And besides doing their own researching, our students have tutored kids out there, taught them how to organize archival collections and helped them set up their exhibits at the Sherman Indian Museum.”

The symposium is open to the public and will be held at the Rupert Costo Library of the American Indian, on the UCR campus May 11 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Attendees will first hear music from Native American jazz saxophonist Randy Plummer before hearing from seven graduate students about how the Sherman Institute helped shape Riverside.

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Kevin Whalen, a Ph.D. candidate at UCR, will discuss his research into the Sherman Institute’s “outing program.” The program sent students out of school and into homes and ranches around Riverside to learn how to be maids, nannies and laborers.

“The belief was that Native Americans weren’t sufficiently intelligent enough to be doctors or lawyers or professors,” Trafzer said, “so they should be channeled into the labor force, and all the better if they could be channeled off the reservation into the mainstream.”

UCR will feature a number of events this spring exploring Native American history, dance, healing and education. Read more about the May 11 research symposium and about all of the upcoming spring events at UCR Today.