Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Born prematurely in the month of November, under the fullest Arizona moon, my father named me Ahote the restless one. My father Ahusaka, meaning “words with wings”, was one out of the twenty tribal leaders on our reservation. My mother Algoma, meaning “valley of flowers”, had given birth to me with tears in her eyes. My Aunts who attended my birth said my mother cried not from pain of birth, but, because she never desired once again, to give up a child to the white missionaries of the Phoenix Indian School.

"It's cheaper to educate Indians than to kill them." --Indian Commissioner Thomas Morgan speaking at the establishment of the Phoenix Indian School in 1891 (Owen Lindauer 2008)

“The idea of the Indian Industrial School was first developed in the 1860s. Richard Henry Pratt [was] known as the father of the non-reservation industrial school establishing the most popular type of institution in the federal Indian school system. The Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania [was] established in 1879 and the Hampton school in Oklahoma [was] established in 1878. They both became the standard for the development of the Indian Schools. The Phoenix Indian School opened in September of 1891. The assimilation era of the school lasted from 1891-1935. It ended with the progression of the New Deal legislation of the 1930s. The schools were established to assimilate the Indians to the ways of the white man.” (Scott 2008)

Although, my mothers heart was broken at the thought that I be removed from her, my fathers heart was heavy because he would not be allowed to teach me the ways of the Navajo people; just as his father had taught him, and his grandfather before, had taught his father. My parents dispirited by their confinement, remained proud of their culture. Before the arrival of the white man, the Navajos roamed the land freely and in reverence to Mother Nature. Many nights, as we gathered around the fires with other members of our tribe, we would recite blessings for Mother Earth. My mother’s uncle; Chief Standing Tall, would tell us that in times past, “[W]e did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as "wild." Only to the white man was nature a "wilderness" and only to him was the land "infested" with "wild" animals and "savage" people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved, was it "wild" for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the "Wild West" began.” (UK 2008).

Therefore, that night of my birth, my mother weep, as my father and the elders danced to beat of the drums with chants of, “Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Hey-a-a-hey! Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you--the two-leggeds, (sic), the four-leggeds, (sic), the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross, the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of things...” (UK 2008).

Before they would come for me mother and father taught me many things a boy my age could not easily understand. They cautioned that historically we stayed within our own tribe; that some tribes could co-exist, while others were mortal enemies. My parents taught me about honor and about manhood, and they told me to return home as soon as I could. Unfortunately, my parent’s fears were justified. Many Indian children, who assimilated, could never return to the reservations’. In fact, history proved that, “[O]nce Native Americans were confined to reservations in the 1880s, the federal government embarked on a plan to bring about their disappearance--not by military means, but by assimilating their children through education. Our investigations at the off-reservation boarding school in Phoenix have yielded subtle archaeological evidence that--along with early records of the school (including its newspaper), biographical accounts of employees and students, and historical records of school life--documents the students' reactions to this attempt to suppress their tribal traditions and identities. The evidence suggests that the need to get along with Indians of different tribes as well as non-Indians, the knowledge that the federal government treated them unlike other people and the alienation some felt when they returned home fostered a new, pan-Indian identity.”(OWENS 2008). As soon as I turned five, they came for me.

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