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Davina Two Bears


Anne Ray Fellow

Affiliation at time of award:
PhD Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Indiana University, Bloomington

Davina Two Bears

Shimásáni dóó Shicheii Bi’ólta’, My Grandparents’ School: Navajo Survivance and Education at the Old Leupp Boarding School, 1909–1942

Davina Two Bears’s research documents the history of the Old Leupp Boarding School (OLBS), a Navajo federal Indian boarding school in operation from 1909 to 1942, and explores Diné (Navajo) survivance within the context of this school. Two Bears employs decolonizing research methods framed by postcolonial theory to investigate the OLBS, which currently exists as a historic archaeological site. She explores how her Diné ancestors utilized their cultural foundations to meet the challenges imposed upon them by a settler society and relates the positive stories of Native survivance achieved within the OLBS.

Utilizing archival records and historic photographs, as well as interviews she conducted with Navajo elders, Two Bears explores topics such as the history of the OLBS, Navajo students’ memories of attending the OLBS, and the treatment of Navajo children enrolled at the OLBS. She asks how a traditional Diné education—which includes caring for one’s family, home, and livestock, as well as oral histories and creation and ceremonial stories—motivated students to survive assimilation within the context of the OLBS. How did Diné children survive and resist their introduction to a Western education in the early twentieth century, which negatively affected traditional Diné education models, family relationships, the physical health and well-being of children, and their language and culture? For what reasons did students drop out of the OLBS? What did reports by government inspectors reveal about the practice of detaining teenage students? How and why did the Navajo language and traditional crafts enter the curriculum at OLBS? Two Bears’s research into the history of the school, its attendees, and the surrounding Diné community is intended to contribute to postcolonial anthropology as a study of culture change, as well as to Diné studies and Native American and indigenous studies.

Generous funding for this Fellowship provided by the Anne Ray Foundation.


Speaker: Davina Two Bears, PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington
Location: Eric S. Dobkin Boardroom, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM

Navajo historic archaeological sites may seem to receive little attention by Southwest archaeologists; however, as Diné (Navajo) archaeologists enter the discipline of anthropology, they are beginning to research topics and places of significance to the Diné people. The Old Leupp Boarding School (OLBS), a Federal Indian boarding school located on the southwest corner of the Navajo Reservation, in operation from 1909-1942, is just such a place. Although hundreds of Diné children attended the OLBS in the early twentieth century, its history is absent from the literature of Navajo studies. Motivated by her maternal grandparents’ stories of attending the OLBS in the past, Davina Two Bears incorporates non-destructive decolonizing research methods to document and examine the history of the OLBS and the oral history of Diné survivance within the context of this Federal Indian boarding school. Through oral history interviews with Navajo elders, who attended the OLBS in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and a critical examination of historic documents and photographs, Two Bears pieces together the history of the OLBS and narratives of Diné survivance, resistance and resilience in the face of assimilation. She notes that she researches her heritage for the benefit of her Diné people, as well as the education of all Americans.