In reading “My People the Sioux” by Luther Standing Bear I realized how the Native American children were forced from their homes, to be transformed in white people. I knew this all along, but hearing it from one of the Native Americans made it sound worse. How he explained that for the older boys it was harder, and he didn’t understand why the girls would cry every night. It is heart breaking to know that is because they were torn away from their family and home, forced to live in worse condition just because they were different.
At first it appeared that the school was not that terrible, it actually seemed enjoyable. They little Indian children played and drew things that pertained to their culture. Then all of a sudden they were ripped from their culture. They had their identities stripped from them, they were given white mens name. I can’t seem to fathom this, if someone told me all of a sudden that my name was now this I don’t think I could listen. They took advantage of these small, vulnerable children. They didn’t have anyone to stand up for them, they went along with what was said because it was their way of surviving. As Bear mention in the beginning some where taken from prison, so this was a better alternative than going back to prison.
The white men went further and cut of the Indian’s hair. This seemed to affect them more than receiving a new name, which I found strange. “Now, after having had my hair cut, a new thought came into my head. I felt that I was no more Indian, but would be an imitation of a white man. And we are still imitations of white men, and the white men are imitations of the Americans,” (Bear, 141). I liked this quote because all these Native Americans were were imitations, they would never be a white man.
They had very little time on their hands, it was occupied by many things, such as, band, school and work. What surprised me is how much Bear wanted to learn, he wished he had more time to spend studying, and also wished he could have spent the whole day at school. Though it was difficult it seemed as if the Native Americans wanted to learn. I don’t know if it was because they knew it was a way of surviving or they truly wanted to learn. I think that they enjoyed learning new things, but felt stress when it was forced upon them, stripping their culture away. If they allowed them to keep their names, and hair but was taught the European culture they would have enjoyed it. Instead of having it shoved down their throat, forcing them to become someone they weren’t.
Critical Response 9
October 1, 2014
Standing Bear’s first account of when he got off the train brought up very bad emotions or feelings. He talks about how he and the other children were on the train for such a long time that they were all worn out and wanted a good nights sleep. When they got to the dorms, or what is described as more like a barracks but still worse, there were no beds. There was a stove in the middle of the room, but no fire. They took off their pants and used them as pillows, sleeping only with the blankets they had brought on the trip. This brings an overwhelming sadness over me that this actually happened in our country’s past. Standing Bear mentions how he came to the school because he wanted to show that he was brave enough to leave the reservation and travel east. This bravery he showed was easily betrayed as they started out by giving the natives just bread and water, and improved on that by just a little. He then goes on to tell the story of when he was in class and the teacher pointed to the board. In lists were white names, and the teacher instructed them to choose one. She called one boy up first who looked back at one point, his imagined face saying, “Do I have to?” or “Is it right for me to take a white mans name?” This is tragic because it reminds me of the Driskill poems and how it is a representation of a loss of identity. The country was literally trying to destroy their culture with no regard that they were perfectly capable of living on their own and did not want to participate in the European style of living.
This relates to Zitkala Sa’s essay. Over and over again she talks about instances in which she felt uncomfortable. It ranges from the train ride to first arriving and catching too many sweets and a feeling of being disgraced, and then to her crying when held by another woman. It was disheartening when someone said to her, “Wait till you are alone at night.” It is a sad world and past when a child cries for his or her mother and is told to wait until they are alone at night to cry because it is not beneficial when people hear you. In addition to this, they cut her hair. This is again an instance of losing identity. Even hair can be a representation of culture, and therefore this taking away of identity relates back to the Driskill poems. However, just before this happened she exclaimed, “No, I will not submit! I will struggle first!” It is important to note the fact that Sa had the tenacity and strong will to struggle against those imposing their will and culture. This is an important lesson to everyone in the world who is repressed in any kind of way. Even if there is someone trying to impose his or her views, it is important to fight back and maintain your identity as best you can, even if it is just the mentality.
The first story by the Standing Bear was heart wrenching, but very interesting. I have never heard about this school in Pennsylvania. It was really sad to hear about the way the Native American boys and girls were treated. I cannot imagine going into a new school and state and expecting to be fed well and good sleeping condition and then getting the complete opposite. Captain Phillips wanted to start a new school to make kids brave and ready for war, but mistreating them was definitely a flaw in this plan.
In the School Days of an Indian Girl, I found it also very sad and made me think of college orientation. You have such high hopes for an amazing experience and when you get there, it can be frightening and a little bit lonely. The small Native American girl had to change a lot of things, including the length of her hair and she just wanted her mom. It breaks my heart hearing stories like these because I remember missing my family when I was in a new place and it is not the best feeling. Native Americans had to deal with this pain all the time when the English uprooted them from their land.
I found similarities in the two stories. Both young children were expecting a new, wonderful experience at a new school, in a new place, but they received the opposite. The long journey over was filled with anxious minds, but when they arrived. they realized it was not what they expected.
Luther Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa are both American Indian authors from Dakota who documented their time spent at boarding schools established in the United States in the early twentieth century for the purpose of assimilating indigenous peoples of America. In excerpts from My People the Sioux by Luther Standing Bear and The School Days of an Indian Girl by Zitkala-Sa, readers are able to learn of the tremendous abuses and offenses committed against American Indian students in boarding schools. It was devastating to read about the murder of individuality, culture, and tradition that was common in assimilation schools, but it was not something that I was expecting to read about. I did find it to be shocking, however, to read about what Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa had in common. Both authors, for example, were expecting to have a fun, enriching experiences in the boarding schools, and were excited to head east and receive an education. Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa also both wrote in their works about the extreme sense of isolation and homelessness they felt while attending boarding school.
In the excerpts from My People the Sioux, Luther Standing Bear describes his expectations of what going to boarding school in eastern United States would mean for him. Standing Bear explains in his narrative that he thought leaving his reservation and traveling so far from home would show people in his tribe that he was brave and fearless. While Standing Bear did not necessarily have high expectations of the school itself, he did believe in some ways that his journey away from Dakota would be beneficial to him. Zitkala-Sa had her own expectations of eastern boarding schools in The School Days of an Indian Girl. Like Standing Bear, Zitkala-Sa expected to gain something positive from going away from Dakota. Zitkala-Sa had desires to become proficient in reading, writing, and speaking English and dreamed of getting an education that could make her family and her tribe proud. Zitkala-Sa often mentions in her essay that a lot of the pleasure and adventure she imagined finding on her trip eastward turned out to be misery and despair.
The most emotional parts of the works by Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa revolved around the authors’ memories of their homes in Dakota which were their only sense of comfort during their times at boarding school. Both authors described the harshness with which they were forced to commit to white traditions, give up their own personalities, and at times watch classmates suffer from sickness (and on some occasions, die as a result). During these miserable days at school, Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa make it clear that the most difficult aspect of the whole experience was being away from family, friends, and comforting places that could ease their sorrows. I was well aware of the atrocious tactics used to strip Native American boarding school students of their identities, but until reading the excerpts by Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa, it never occurred to me how utterly lonely students must have been during their time away from home. Both authors describe Dakota as a place of freedom, beauty, and warmth, while making it clear that in the eastern boarding schools it was difficult to even enjoy a simply night of sleep. The desperation and homesickness present in these authors’ works is heart-breaking.
For this week’s reading assignments, we were asked to read excerpts from My People the Sioux by Luther Standing Bear and The School Days of an Indian Girl by Ziktala Sa. Both readings pertain to the schooling of young Indian children under white superiors in order to assimilate them into white culture. What’s vastly different about both readings, however, appears to be the spirit of the school children.
In My People the Sioux, Luther Standing Bear is part of the first graduating class of the Carlisle Indian School. Initially, the school starts out pretty similar to an army barrack filled with young Indian children without any real structure. Over time, the school develops into a fairly decent place for these children and does a good job of assimilating them into white culture. They slowly learn English, adopt their white names, and are even taught trades and music. From the perspective of Luther Standing Bear, it does not appear to be an entirely bad place. His father even makes visit to the school and is essentially treated fairly well. The head superior, Captain Pratt, even appears to be a kindly gentleman without any strict punishment or enforcement recalled by Standing Bear.
In The School Days of an Indian Girl, Ziktala narrates a vastly different experience and story. She is much less looking forward to her schooling than Luther Standing Bear was. She acts out on multiple occasions, citing a time when she mashed the turnips into a pulp or scribbled out the eyes of the white-man’s devil. Her Indian spirit cannot be broken by her superiors, as she lashes out in getting a haircut and even witnesses corporal punishment on one of her fellow classmates. In the end, however, she too is well assimilated into white culture as she pursues a college career and is commended for her skills in oration, despite her classmates and rival schools being not-so-welcoming.
In either instance, whether or not the writer sees it as completely heinous or not, it is kind of awful to think that the colonists completely eradicated any sense of culture within these people. Though both writers complain of homesickness, neither end up pursuing what their parents had initially set out for them. Standing Bear was to be a war hero as his father said, and though in the end his father approves of his educational pursues, it is bittersweet. His tribespeople have fallen victim to each other and there isn’t much left for Standing Bear to return home to, when he eventually does.
As for Ziktala, her mother certainly doesn’t approve of her educational pursuits. Though she does very well in pursuing an education and is clearly a gifted writer and speaker, it is only recognized by her white counterparts and not what her mother would have wanted.
After reading Luther Standing Bear's story about the Carlisle School, I felt uneasy. To think that after a long journey, Native American children had to sleep on a cold floor, and use their pants as a pillow is sad. They are already feeling down and scared with their present situation, that they should not have to deal with anything else, especially where they are going to put their heads down to sleep. The next thing that made me uneasy, was that they were forced to participate in a school setting with a new language that they have never been associated with before. English was completely new to them, and they just realized that writing with ink and that words were actually written down to form a language. It was then described that they had to sit down at their seats and look up at the chalk board. There were English names on the board and they were supposed to strip themselves of their identity, and take an American name as their own. That was insulting to me. After having to be removed out of their former homes, to come to an abandoned building with nothing for them to lay their head on, and to then be someone that they are not. Later on throughout the story, it talks about how they were one by one taken to have their hair cut because that is what they wanted them to look like. They wanted to strip their identities even more so that they fit the "ideal image" of everyone else. Native Americans tended to have longer hair, and they knew that if they were to cut their hair, they would no longer be associated with the characteristics of a Native American. The reaction that I had to these stories was mostly a sad one because I could picture how scared these kids were. They knew nothing and were just doing what they were told to "fit in." They should not have had to live in that time of situation.
The story The School Days of an Indian Girl by Zitkala-Sa was very interesting and while I was reading I noticed a theme of how no matter how hard Zitkala tried to do what she thought was right and make her mom proud she always let her emotions get the best of her. In the beginning of the story, on the journey to the Red Apple Country she let the pale-faced people’s judgment of her get under her skin and cried, showing they won and we able to break her. The white people want her to feel embaressed and unwanted so that she would realize that they were better than her. Another example is when she found out they were going to cut her hair she hid from them under a bed and wouldn’t come out without putting up a fight by kicking and screaming. By showing them that she was scared and a coward would only make them want to cut her hair even more. Zitkala undergoes a lot of hardships and unfair punishments but as the story moves on it seems like Zitkala changes her ways and learns to slowly control her emotions. Even though when her brother tells her she cannot go out to the party she is so upset she doesn’t show him her emotions and how she really feels, although she still cries it’s to her mother’s expense. Finally we are shown a total change of Zitkala at the end of the story when she is about to hear the final winner of the contest and the pale-faced people throw a flag they made that belittled Indian people and instead of flipping out, crying, or showing them that they had defeated her she holds it in and finds out after she won one of the two prizes at the contest. It seems like every time she shows her emotions the consequences she has to face are pretty tough but the more she is able to stand her ground and not allow people to get the best of her she not only wins the contest but she wins the internal fight within herself and the person trying to tear her down.
Another thing I noticed was that while Zitkala was changing so she could be strong, independent, and stand on her own it seems like the more she was forgetting the ways of her culture. In the beginning she explains that when she sees the telegraph pole she is reminded of the pale-faced people and how she would hold the pole tight and ask it what the pale-faced had done to hurt it. I can feel the connection she has with nature and how her culture impacts the way she views white people. Even though she shows throughout the entire story the hatred she has towards the pale-face the reader can see that although she may feel the sense of anger towards them she works so hard to become one the whole time. She goes to school to learn their teachings, she wants to go out with her brother to the party where they all dressed like the pale-face and then she goes against her mother’s wishes and instead of coming back to their village after completing school to teach her people what she has learned, she wants to continue her education and go to college. Going to college is not a bad thing but it is just so different from how she felt in the beginning when all she did was cry because of how much she missed her mom and her home and now when she has the chance to go home and be with the one person she mourned over she, not only, cannot wait to go back school so she can grow up and meet people like her brother did and party like him but then she wants to continue school after graduation. It seems like her motives change throughout the story and the once all Indian little girl is now turning into an educated, colonized, strong willed, woman.
In “My People, the Sioux”, the author displays a general mistreatment of the Indian children. I thought that it was flabbergasting that the white people running the school thought that displacing several Native American children from their homes only for them to lodge in an uncomfortable setting was anything but detrimental . I feel like the approach of the Euro-Americans to implement schools for the Indigenous is often painted in a skewed light by the history curriculum in modern schools. While the United States considers these actions as aiding the Native Americans, it really seems like another way to assimilate Euro-American standards into the native culture. What especially disturbed me was when the teacher had the boys “pick” their names. This action indicates a desire to replace sacred values and identity. This concerns me because the subject of identity, especially in children, is a sensitive one. At this sensitive period of a child's life, they are developing their worldview and self-image. Therefore, by stripping them of their names and removing them from their homes, the settlers were attempting to weaken their cultural ties. There are two kinds of warfare: the loud, disastrous kind with guns and bombs, and the subtle attacks on a culture. This piece reveals the latter. I feel as though bringing children into “white” run schools was a means of training the native youth to think differently than their forefathers. Most of our readings indicate that the European settlers often acted in fear that the Native Americans would overcome them. Therefore, afraid of the power of unity amongst Native groups, the implementation served as a way to prevent backlash from future generations of the Native American.
2 October 2014
Critical Response - 9/30
Both Luther Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa share similar experiences in American boarding schools in their accounts. For these Native Americans, school was not the source of learning and education that it is today for many Americans. Routinely, one can hear children speak about how they do not enjoy school or that they hate going, but comparatively, the education most of us receive today is a stark contrast to the “education” many native people were forced to endure. Both Standing Bear and Zitkala-Sa were promised so much from the American education system, an institution that not only failed them, but also in many ways, made their lives far worse than if they had been allowed to live their own lives elsewhere.
Wanting to prove both himself and his people that he is brave, Luther Standing Bear traveled east to the Carlisle Indian School. After what he describes as a harrowing trip, he and the rest of the students are assigned to what can only be described as a barracks, without any of the comforts one would assume any boarding school would have. He speaks of the and the other students rolling up their leggings so that they can sleep on them as pillows. To make matters worse, the diet is poor, consisting of what some wouldn’t even deem basic, and it is in these conditions that the children are expected to thrive. Standing Bear also recounts something we have encountered before in other readings in coming up to the board and being forced to choose a name. It is frightening to think of how innocent and benign this seems, but in light of what we have learned about rhetorical sovereignty and identity, it is painful to read.
As with Standing Bear, Zitkala-Sa’s own experiences are anything but positive. Like him, she too is forced to endure this displacement and homesickness for the sake of “civilization.” She recalls all of the ways in which she tries to stay strong, but there is only so much a young girl can do to fight back against a system that is designed to crush the spirit out of her. She even speaks about her hair and having to cut it. It may not be something one thinks about often, but hair can be an important part of culture. Forcing someone to change his or her appearance and become something else is a very real way to destroy that person’s identity.
I would like to live in a world where I could go to bed at night and sleep soundly, knowing that the United States has done its best to treat all of its people, even those who disagree with its policies and ideologies, with respect and honor. The sad reality is that the more I like about how Native Americans were treated in the United States, the more I am both saddened and ashamed by my country. The more I read, the more it becomes alarmingly obviously that these boarding schools were never chiefly concerned with giving an education to native people. Their primary reason for existing was to systematically destroy an entire people by erasing their culture forever. Although there’s no way to make up for the past wrongs that we’ve committed as a country, I hope that we can start to be more open-minded and do what’s right in respect the wishes of not just natives, but all people who live in our borders.
Today’s readings “My People the Sioux” by Luther Standing Bear and “The School Days of an Indian Girl” by Ziktala Sa were both very eye opening. I have previously heard about what school was like for young Indians, but had never read of anybody’s experiences. To hear first hand what it was like for the young Indians was really difficult. After being separated formt heir homes, families, and everything they have eevr known the Indians are greated with basically nothing. The school buildings were there, but nothing else. There were no beds for them to sleep in, which put them on the cold hard floors night after night. They were given very little food to survive off of, as opposed to the meals they had become accustomed with at home. But most surprisingly is there was no real ‘school’ in place when they got there. For many days they roamed freely and did as they pleased, while they were being treated like exhibits at the zoo with locals coming to watch them. When they did finally have some form of schooling, it was hardly educational, but more of a way to destroy their identity. Sure, making someone change their appearance- cutting their hair, changing the way they dress- is offensive, but can be dealt with. What irritated me the most was the changing of their names. As soon as you are born you are identified by YOUR name, and as you grow it becomes your identity. To have something that is that much of a part of you, just changed in a matter of seconds to a name you can’t even understand on a blackboard is more than offensive- it’s cruel. If someone were to tell me that I could no longer be identified by my name and that I had ten second to pick a new one that I did not even understand I would be devastated. So to know that when the Indians came to these schools, looking for an education and a way to better themselves, and were greeted with unprepared schools, poor living conditions, and identity loss, it is truly heartbreaking.
October 2nd, 2014
The assigned reading that I found most interesting was Ziktala Sa’s The School Days of an Indian Girl. This reading in particular was intriguing to me due to the fact that it discussed the issues of young Native American children in regards to their schooling and how their white “superiors” wanted to remove their previous identities, and have them integrate or assimilate into their culture. One of the striking things that stood out to me was just the overall mistreatment of Zikatala at this particular boarding school. In my opinion I felt like due to the fact that Zikatala looked different than the other children, the white people could not truly comprehend who exactly Zikatala was. So in their mind they had to alter what they could not understand and mold it into their likeness, which is exactly what they attempted to do with Zikatala. The story of how the girls and women chopped off Zikatala’s long hair was personally upsetting to me due to the fact that it just highlighted how these people wanted to change every facet of Zikatala’s identity, even the way she looked. I also enjoyed how Ziktala discussed the “rebellion” within her, more specifically with the turnip incident. I found it refreshing that Ziktala didn’t have a defeated mindset, and continued to stay strong in the face of tribulations.
Joyce Rain Anderson
October 2, 2014
Standing Bear and Zitkala Sa
This weeks reading both focus on the education of Native peoples outside of their culture Rather than being actual taught, with a few exceptions in Black Bear’s case, the students in Eastern schools were rather reformed into whiteness; stripped of their Native identity. In “The School Days of an Indian Girl” an Indian girl along with two of her friends are sent East to be sent to a school. Although the Indian girl was once filled with excitement about her new journey, she quickly realized when she got there that it was not as she expected. She was stripped of her native identity when they took her moccasins, cut her braids, and expected her to speak and understand the English language. When getting her braids removed she states, “I lost my spirit.” She not only lost her hair, but she also lost her identity and sense of self, longing even more to be home with her family. It was sad to see that this abuse was still an issue when she chose to pursue her college education out East yet again. Even though she had a better sense of what she was getting into and was more cultured, she still had to withstand stereotyping and hatred. She noted a time after a oration saying, “There, before that vast ocean of eyes, some college rowdies threw out a large white flag, with a drawing of a most forlorn Indian girl on it. Under this they had printed in bold black letters words that ridiculed the college, which was represented by a "squaw." It was heartbreaking to see that she no longer seemed to belong in either her old, Native home or in the education system of the East.
There was a sense of identity loss in Luther Standing Black Bear’s piece as well. Much like with the little Indian girl, Standing Black Bear did not know what he was getting himself into. He said, “I had come to this school merely to show my people that I was brave enough to leave the reservation and go East, not knowing what it meant and not caring.” Rater than being stripped of their Indian clothing right away, the students were stripped of their identity and given “white men’s names” in which they chose at random on a chalkboard. Imagine having to pick your identity without even knowing what it meant? Similarly to that of the Indian girl Luther Standing Black Bear felt lost without his hair. He states, “When my hair was cut short, it hurt my feelings to such an extent that the tears came into my eyes…All I was think about was that hair he had taken away from me.” Black Bear, however liked his new clothes when he was given them at first.
As a side note, I would like to note that these were my favorite readings of the semester thus far. I really felt for the Natives who were stripped of what they knew in order to conform to the whiteness of the East. As I mention in almost every response, it is so disheartening to see the poor treatment of the Native and the United States as a result of how stereotypically they were viewed.
I was horrified while reading Zitkala Sa's story. It is very hard to believe that "Indian" children were expected to understand English without being taught to speak it. The injustices imposed upon them were terrible. The extremity of the conformity expected of them is incredible. It really bothers me that these "missionaries" didn't care at all about the children's cultures, didn't attempt to understand them or accept that there are cultural differences which dictate that cut hair symbolizes a lot more than what it did to the adults in the school. It isn't fair to treat anyone in the manner in which they were treated, but especially with children, adults should be more sensitive to their needs.
I felt really bad for her, riding on the train and being stared at, by children and their negligent mothers, mocked, lonely and already feeling defeated. The thing she found to be familiar and comforting was a foreign object which she didn't understand. She practices survivance better than anyone, but this leaves her as an outsider when she returns home; all the others have either conformed or never been immersed in the "civilized" Western ways; she is too Western for the older ways and too "Indian" for the new ones. This creates a sort of new culture in our societies, but when no one around us is in the same situation, it can be very lonely and embarrassing.
The story about giving her speech and receiving flowers from her peers is very relatable. It is always embarrassing to receive benefits or compliments from someone for whom you think ill thoughts. I've done it, and it makes me feel very guilty and judgmental. This serves as a reminder that all people are the same on the inside; they all experience the same feelings that I do. We're all in the same boat. I felt a little victory over bullying when the white flag mocking her fell, defeated, when she won her second speech, because the fact that hateful intolerance like that exists hurts me. People can be so stupid. I'm always similarly thrilled when other hateful actions or cruel, spiteful people are put in their place. I look forward to the day when it's all gone from our lives and we can live and let live.
I have actually read Standing Bear’s story before, I studied the mistreatment between the two cultures and races present within the writing. My reaction to the story was not any different from the first time I read it. As the first time I had read it, I was very disgusted with the entire thing.
Originally it would seem like the idea for a school that would house and educate Native American youths would be a wonderful idea, however the actual execution of this plan was incredibly lacking. What could have been a beneficial idea quickly became a torture for the Native American youths imprisoned within these schools.
Unfortunately this was a necessary evil for most of the Native American students that attended the boarding schools. When at these schools the Native American students have to deal with daily cases of mistreatment, prejudice, and neglect, but it does provide them with education, food, and a place to live. As awful the place may have been at least it was a place to belong.
When I read this story in my sociology the part we discussed the most was the mistreatment and inappropriate punishments of the Native American students when they were of an older age. It was not only humiliating but also made the Native Americans appear greatly victimized to the people around them. It is also important to remember that this was not a long time ago but was instead incredibly recent, say sixty to seventy years ago.
The most upsetting part about reading this was unlike the time I had read this for my sociology class I didn’t have much knowledge about Native Americans during earlier times. I now understand more of the Native American troubles and that it persisted for much longer than I knew.
When reading Zitkala Sa’s The School Days of an Indian Girl, I was immediately captivated by her plotline and her style of writing. I was eager to read this piece of literature when I recognized that it was a short fiction story – something a bit different than everything we have read thus far in the class. Although all of the other non-fiction, informational readings were tremendously educational and eye opening, it was enthralling to read a piece of literature that was going to put these newly learned concepts and cultures to life. Although the piece is categorized as fiction, I presume that many Native American children endured these same hardships as the narrator of the story. It was quite heartbreaking to read this story written in the perspective of a young child – a young child sent away from their parents, to a different part of the country, with new “paleface” people who treated the students with an inadequate amount of respect and care.
When the narrator is seated inside of the “iron horse,” (of which I assume to be a train) it was enlightening to hear first-person how the American folk treated these Native American children. It is so unfortunate to see that people would stop, point, and stare at the distinctive physical qualities that set Native Americans apart from white Americans. Their moccasins, their homemade blankets, their long dark hair, or their darker-toned skin were all things that the “palefaces” seemed to gawk at. When the train arrives at the school, it is distressing to see how terrified the Native American children are and how ignorant the “paleface” employees are to their cowering. Not only were the employees at the school ignorant to the culture and the beliefs of Native Americans, but they were brutal in their administrations and their treatment of the students. They neglect to teach the children English, yet become aggravated and abusive when the children do not understand what they did wrong in a certain situation. They tie students to chairs and snip their hair from their heads – an unnecessary and preposterous performance, if you ask me.
Not only were the Native American students at these schools treated poorly and unfairly, but in the experience of the narrator, it made them feel disconnected and misplaced in their own home when they would return for the summer. The narrator explained to have felt lost in her home, among her family, and in nature: “Even nature seemed to have no place for me. I was neither a wee girl nor a tall one; neither a wild Indian nor a tame one.” It is so unfortunate to see how lost and out of place these Native Americans began to feel after being placed into these schools – it is as though they were being stripped of their true identities, causing them to lose sense of who they are and where they belong.
First I read “The School Days of an Indian Girl” by Zitkala-Sa had an intriguing perspective compared to what I would have expected from a young girl going to school for the first time. She described certain things differently such as referring to the transport as an “iron horse” and taking notice of race. Much of how she described other people in her story had to do with the color of their skin such as “paleface” which was something I wasn’t used to. She goes on to talk about the cutting of her hair and made me think of feudal Japan and how samurais were dishonored when they were forced to cut their long hair which was a symbol of good standing within the samurai community. Like most children this girl’s imagination was a powerful force for her like when she dreamt of an evil deity. She also used a Native American flare for describing her surroundings. “My People The Sioux” tells a similar tale but with a much more grim perspective. It felt much more real to me seeing pictures of the Natives posing for class pictures. It’s a shame they weren’t simply just given the information to better their lives instead of being forcibly ‘civilized’. If teachers then had the educational philosophy that is taught today, like here at Bridgewater State University, perhaps things would have turned out better. Which makes me wonder how much of these stories exaggerated or have a biased opinion. I remember as a child seeing some mean-spirited adults as evil people or scared simply by appearances which I believe children are prone to do. That isn’t to say that Natives weren’t mistreated or were schooled in poor conditions but it is important to take into account what point of view is being told in these stories.
Zitkala–Sa offers an intriguing account of degradation. Sa covers a wide range of emotions in her piece School Days of an Indian Girl, and as the piece develops, we can see a gradual development of her identity. Again, the theme of identity is a central concept in the text, and it is interesting to see how Sa’s identity is partly formed as an individual who has had their identity stolen from them. There is a sudden shift to a darker space of self-reflection about halfway through the text, where Sa considers the turmoil she feels. She notes “The melancholy of those black days has left so long a shadow that it darkens the path of years that have since gone by” (Sa190). She continues to write “During this time, I seemed to hang in the heart of chaos, beyond the touch or voice of human aid” (Sa 191). Her comments are filled with despair, and it demonstrates the sheer suffering that an individual endures as their identity is stripped away. I think her testimony significantly recounts the systematic and unforgiving control that many Natives felt in these reform type schools.
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