Guest Editorial: Save the university press

Farina King

My father was 5 years old when he was dropped off without warning at an Indian boarding school. As a Diné child who had never learned English or had even seen a toilet, he was shocked by the experience and cried himself to sleep that night. Like many Native American children who attended boarding school, he was taught to forget or suppress his heritage, language, and culture. He hardly talked about his boarding school experiences and memories, but I knew that he and many of my relatives and ancestors were sent to them.

It was not until I read David Wallace Adams's book, "Education for Extinction," in college that I began to understand the tactics and onslaught of forced assimilation and violence in federal Indian boarding schools that came in waves over a century affecting countless Native American and Indigenous peoples, including my own family.

Adams's groundbreaking book is one of many foundational works of scholarship the University Press of Kansas has published over its 75 years of operation. From my perspective, this press is essential for exposing the truth of the travesties of federal Indian boarding schools and part of opening the way to healing and reconciliation. A part of Adams's central argument is that the strategy of Indian boarding schools was to cut off the students' ties to home so the government could come in and claim their land. While their public purpose was benevolent, their true goal was to "educate for extinction."

UPK has published various such seminal works about Native American and Indigenous history, including but not limited to: Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert's "Hopi Runners," David Wallace Adams's "Three Roads to Magdalena," Tai Edwards's "Osage Women and Empire," Colleen O'Neill's "Working the Navajo Way," Erika Bsumek's "Indian-Made," Phil Deloria's "Indians in Unexpected Places," and Daniel Cobb's "Native Activism in Cold War America."

In 2020, Congresswomen Deb Haaland, D-N.M., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., introduced the bill for The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act, and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition supported this initiative. Legislative committees rely on academic publications, such as those published by the UPK, to inform their decisions.

In February 2021, the University Press of Kansas informed authors, including me, of its publications of the financial challenges that could shut down the press. Founded in 1946, the UPK has published around 1,000 books on U.S. history, military history, law, political science, and other fields. They also publish books about the lands and people who live and have lived in this part of the country since time immemorial.

We need university presses that share these stories. These are hard times, but universities and education are getting hit especially hard. We cannot compromise on the future of our children and their education. Closing academic presses like UKP would threaten Native American studies because society and government institutions rely on the scholarship published through their services, especially in areas of Indian boarding schools. Many are not willing to let go of this beloved press, which is why thousands are signing an online petition, "Save University Press of Kansas," at Change.org, directed to the University Press of Kansas Board of Trustees.

Farina King is a professor of history at Northeastern State University where she teaches Native American History. Her first book, "The Earth Memory Compass: Diné Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century," was published in 2018 by the University Press of Kansas.

Trending Video