Light & Shadows of Chalandor Book of Shadows
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From: USA
Registered: 11/21/2008

(Date Posted:02/09/2009 21:41 PM)
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"There were kids who were Lakota, and there were kids who were Wampanoag. At Carlisle, they became Indian."
- Barbara Landis, Carlisle Indian School biographer, 2000

The erosion of Native-American sovereignty was swift and unrelenting. Propelled by a hunger for land, gold, power and control, it swallowed up everything in its path, including communities, languages and religions. No matter the Nez Perce were distinct from the Navajo, the Seneca from the Seminole, the Coeur D'Alene from the Crow. They were one in their difference.

Repercussions of the Carlisle Indian School experience are still felt today, often in unsuspected ways. In March, National Public Radio reported that Native Americans were the most undercounted ethnic group in the US Census, in part because older members of the "boarding-school generation" remember that when they gave their names to government agents, they were "carted off involuntarily."

Most of the 2 million Native Americans living in this country have some sort of biological link to Carlisle or one of the boarding schools created in its wake. There is also a shared sense of inner conflict. It is difficult for many Indian people to fully condemn or condone Carlisle. But they agree the disintegration of Indian cultures and the arrogant racism toward native people is horrific.

Much of the inner turmoil Carlisle has spawned revolves around the question of what the lives of native peoples would have been like without Carlisle and similar boarding schools. Barbara Landis, who researches the Indian School for the Cumberland County Historical Society, points out that the children's lives were less than idyllic before they came to Carlisle.
"It was just about the end of the treaty-making era," Landis explains. All the major battles between Indians and the US military were over except for the massacre at Wounded Knee, which would take place in 1890. But the children would have had some memory of the wars, in which their parents and grandparents had participated.

"The only place for Indians was in the agency [reservation]," Landis says. "Emotionally, the structure of their world changed with the agencies, the rations, a whole new way of eating, not being able to hunt buffalo."
"Most people around here are proud their children and ancestors went there," Sterling Hollow Horn says of the Carlisle Indian School. "But four- and five-year-olds were being taken from their families. There was a lot of confusion from parents, but more so from the children. Carlisle was good, and it was bad. It depends how you want to look at it. I personally think it was good. It showed Indian kids were intelligent. But I know a lot of people would disagree with me."

Ed Farnham has only begun to wrestle with his feelings about Carlisle. "It's a touchy subject," he says. "On the one hand, you had all these Indians coming together to play football and being a dominating force. That was great, and that never would have happened [otherwise]. But losing or suppressing your cultural identity, that's not good.

"I know things would have been different if my relatives hadn't come here. My grandmother wouldn't have been a seamstress. My uncle wouldn't have gone to Europe and done all he did."

Though her grandmother described her time at Carlisle as pleasant, Lynne Allen feels boarding schools contributed to her own confusion about cultural identity. Though Allen is a descendant of Chief Sitting Bull, she is only one-sixteenth Lakota - not enough to be officially recognized by the tribe as a member. "Being part Indian and not belonging anywhere was something [my mother] carried with her her whole life," Allen explains. "It's something she passed on to me, this feeling of being marginalized.

"Part of me knows it helped a lot of people survive in the world. But there were people who stayed on the reservations and survived, too. It was the age, it was the era of missionaries and zealots trying to 'help the savages.' ... I don't know what would've happened if they wouldn't have done that."
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