A new book details the hard-won battle fought by tribal leaders on the Wind River Reservation to open their own high school.
Author Martha Louise Hipp, a former psychologist in the reservation's school district, researched the book for over 20 years. Sovereign Schools: How Shoshones and Arapahos Created A High School On The Wind River Reservation tells the story of how, for generations, Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone children were put in boarding schools where they weren't allowed to speak their language. In the 1950s, they were integrated into Fremont County schools but experienced discrimination and further loss of culture while at the schools.
Carol Atkinson assisted with the editing of the book and said tribal leaders worked for decades to convince the school district to let them run their own school. This was during the civil rights era when many districts were required to integrate minority students into classrooms.
"One of the arguments that was used against an Indian high school by the townspeople was that it would end up being a segregated school," said Atkinson. "But there's a big difference in that the Indians were really trying to preserve their culture."
Small towns in the county were also losing population and relied on federal funds for Native American students to keep their schools open.
"The Indian federal government payments to the local schools was very significant in the operation of those schools" said Atkinson. "And to lose those was a big threat, and they didn't want the reservation to have its own school because they would lose all of that money."
But eventually, after tribal leaders sought positions on county committees and the help of national political leaders, the two tribes were allow to start their own school. Author Martha Hipp said during the 1970s, a coalition of tribes around the country joined together to work to open similar schools.
"The Wind River school was the flagship for that coalition because they were considered the best prepared and the farthest along. That's one reason this story is an important one," she said.
Hipp said now the school serves as an important community center.
"Nearly all the staff is Native American. It's a tremendous boost to the economy. It gives people hope, and it gives role models to the children. Those are tremendously important people on the reservation," said Hipp.
The book was published by the University of Nebraska Press and is now available.