Imagine being a young girl and being forced to go away from your home and family to go to a boarding school. You have never left your neighborhood, but if you do not go your parents will be arrested. At the school they will not let you keep your name, religion or language. They will try to take away everything about your culture in your life. This is how life was for many Native Americans from around 1876 until the 1990's. Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave tells such a story about a young Native American girl named Shi-shi-etko.
This beautiful book describes the days up to Shi-shi-etko having to leave for school including what she does and how she is feeling. Each morning and night she counted how many days she had left to be at home. Her family tried their best to say goodbye to her and to instill their lifestyle and culture in her.
The native culture raised children as a community. So her extended family came to say goodbye. Shi-shi-etko had many thoughts the last few nights as she lay safely under her patchwork quilt that Yayah (her grandmother) made her. Each day she tried to remember her surroundings and keep it in her heart. Her grandmother gave her a memory bag and Shi-shi-etko gathered things to remember in it and then hid it by the old oak tree. She couldn't even take her memory bag with her since it would be taken away.
|St. Paul's Indian Industrial School, Middlechurch, Manitoba 1901 |
See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
My first experience with this type of school was on a vacation to Phoenix, Arizona. At the Heard Museum there is an exhibit on the boarding school experience for Native Americans. I insisted Steve and I visit it. It broke my heart to hear how awful these schools were for the children who attended them. And it broke my heart even more that the government and white people felt it necessary to assimilate these people whose culture in many ways was superior to what they were being assimilated to.
While at these schools many Native Americans were abused, mistreated and died. In the Canadian Indian Schools it is said around 150,000 children passed through them and at least 6,000 died there. (Source) Canada recognized the damage inflicted on these people and in May 2006, established a $2 billion compensation package for the approximately 86,000 people who were forced to attend these schools. (Source) The Canadian government has formally apologized in 2008 and so has the Vatican.
I hope our society has learned as a whole not to repeat this mistake again and I pray that all affected by this assimilation process may heal and find happiness and peace in their lives.
For more Native American posts check out:
- Alego and Arctic Adventures
- P'esk'a and the First Salmon Ceremony
- Winter Solstice
- The Chosen Series
- Naya's Arctic Adventures
- Wampanoag's Cranberry Day
- Navajo Nation or Dinetah
- The Incas
- The Hunter's Promise & The Whispers of the Wolf
- The Thunder Egg
- Tribal Nations Maps
- Pine and the Winter Sparrow
- Native American Biographies
- Native American Legends and Picture Books