Position Paper - "Boarding Schools"

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Homeless Indian Man in OKC Suffers Tragic Death by: Johnny Flynn, OKIT Special Writer

Have you ever had a broken heart? Have you ever been let down and abandoned? (Flynn, 1998) Well, Robert Stumbling Bear had felt a broken heart and he felt let down and abandoned in his short forty-year-old life. According to the Oklahoma City investigation, Stumbling Bears body was found crushed in a load of cardboard. John Maddox, homicide detective, found in his investigation that Stumbling Bear had crawled into a dumpster full of cardboard sometime late Christmas night. (Flynn, 1998) Through the investigation, detectives were unsure if the cause of death was from hypothermia or from the impact of the crusher. According to Stumbling Bears sister, Ophelia Stumbling Bear, Stumbling Bear died of a broken heart. Stumbling Bear started sniffing at the age of thirteen and was addicted to alcohol by the age of fifteen. Ophelia said that Robert drank because he had a broken heart. (Flynn 1998) According to Ophelia, Roberts broken heart was caused by his generation and the generation before him attending boarding schools in order to civilize the Indians. The term civilize means taking the Indian out of American Indians attending the boarding schools. (Flynn, 1998) In 1887, the Allotment Act was passed through Congress. The Act broke up communal tribal reservation lands into small plots which were assigned to individual Indians. (Josephy, Jr., 1994, p. 431) In recognizing the Allotment Act as an attack on Indian lands and against tribal culture and sovereignty, some traditional Indian leaders tried protesting. The leaders protests were not listened to. Eventually, white families adopted orphaned Indian children in order to gain title to their allotments. At the same time, through adopted measures, the government would strip the Indians of their culture. The Indians tried to continue their religion, sacred ceremonies, tribal language, old traditions, and telling of Indian myths, legend, and folktales. When the Indians tried to continue their culture, they were punished and frowned upon. At this time, the Indian children were forcibly taken to boarding schools. White people wanted to be assured that the next generation of Indians would not be savages. (Josephy, Jr., 1994, p. 431) Imagine Indian children living in the traditional Indian culture today and tomorrow they were taken to a mission boarding school. For many children, it was their first time of being separated from their parents. Imagine the feelings of loneliness and abandonment that these children felt. Once at the school, Lone Foot, from the Blackfoot Nation, testified of personal belongings being taken from the Indian children and placed in a heap and set on fire. (Nabokov, 1991, p. 220) Lone Foots long hair was immediately cut off. Boy after boy would fall to the floor in tears at seeing their braids cut off and falling to the floor. In the American Indian culture, long hair is the pride of all Indians. In just a short amount of time after entering the boarding school, Lone Foot has lost his belongings and his pride, in the American Indian culture. Next, Lone Foot would lose his name because he would be given an English name. (Nabokov, 1991, p. 220) The life in a boarding school for Indian children was not a pleasant experience. The boarding room experiences, have had live-long effects on American Indian people. The Indian children felt like they were all alone and abandoned. (Cash & Hoover, 1971, p. 95) The feeling of abandonment was a feeling that Stumbling Bear felt throughout his life. The Indians being stripped of their culture, when attending the boarding schools, has actually affected the lives of all generations to follow. Stumbling Bear was affected by the boarding school life after forty years of being alive. He was a man who treated kids the way he wanted to be treated. (Flynn, 1998) He was also a man who turned to alcohol to ease the broken heart of loneliness and abandonment. Research says that Indian people are six times more likely to die of alcohol-related diseases than non-white people. (Flynn, 1998) The death rates for the Indians, compared to the general population, due to accidents is 212% higher, for suicide 70% greater, and for homicide the rate is 41% higher. (Flynn, 1998) I believe that many Indian people research their past history of boarding schools and either know or learn of the boarding school experiences. At the same time, the Indian people have had a hard accepting the treatment their people had received in boarding schools. This is the time when anger turns to alcoholism. The leading causes of death for Indian males in the United States are diseases of the heart and accidents. (Flynn, 1998) As I researched the history of boarding schools, I became angry with the treatment of the Indian people and even more angry when their Indian culture was stripped from them. I feel that I have a personal stake in this matter because my mother was in a boarding school and adopted into a white family. My mother was stripped of her Indian culture; therefore, I wasnt brought up in the traditional Indian culture. That is the reason that the American Indian history and culture is so important to me today. It was said by Stumbling Bears friend, that he was homeless in his own land. (Flynn, 1998) Imagine the feeling of loneliness and abandonment staying with Stumbling Bear after all these years. This tells me that the effects of the boarding school life will affect Indian people generation after generation. In some ways, I relate the Indian boarding school experiences to the children of today who have divorced parents. In many ways, there are many of the same feelings with loneliness, helplessness, and abandonment. The effects of a divorce on a child have long lasting effects on generations to follow. In my opinion, there is a domino effect on those people involved with divorces and those Indian people involved with the boarding school experiences. My heart breaks thinking about Stumbling Bear because I dont think he ever felt he belonged. I think it is important to understand that past history has life-long effects on all of us.

-- Anonymous, March 17, 1999

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