Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
The story of Miranda Washinawatok, the seventh grader suspended for a game for speaking in Menominee, hit a nerve in Indian Country and - thanks to the Internet - around the world.
Carlisle School Arrival of Chiracahua
Apache Children in 1886
The story of Miranda is about saying "Ketapanen" or "I love you" in Menominee. It is about a teacher slamming her hand down on a desk and embarrassing Indian students for speaking in Indian. It is about being punished for speaking in Indian.
The story is bigger than the incident that unfolded at the Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, Wisconsin, a few miles south of the Menominee Indian Reservation.
It hit a nerve in Indian Country and is bigger than the isolated incident because most American Indians can recount a similar experience that happened to them or to a loved one in their families for simply for speaking in Indian.
Personally, since finding out about Miranda's story, a story that was told to me about 20 years ago keeps coming back to my mind. The story was told to me by an Indian elder who passed away just last year named Bill Dunlop, Ottawa, who authored "The Indians of Hungry Hollow." The story happened decades ago.
Mr. Dunlop told me about how his cousins, who were told they could not speak in Indian at an Indian boarding school in upper Michigan were caught doing so by some nuns. For their infraction of speaking in Indian, they were punished by having to clean the grout in the tile with a toothbrush in a latrine all night long. As these two Indian boys were down on their hands and knees scrubbing the grout, their knees became bloodied.
They ended up cleaning the blood from the tile grout all night long from one end to the other. When they finished one end, they had to turn around to do it all over again.
Carlisle School Months After Arrival of
Chiracahua Apache Children in 1886
The Indian boarding schools were established on the premise: "Kill the Indian, save the man." The quote was coined by Captain Richard H. Pratt, a military man. The Indian boarding schools were conceptualized and designed as an experiment by Pratt, who thought Indians could become "civilized" without fully killing them. Forbidding American Indians from speaking in Indian was a major part of "killing the Indian."
So when American Indian students are punished for speaking in Indian, in essence, they are being told that they must also give up their culture.
I like to tell audiences that the Pratt experiment really never worked. While they tried to beat it out of us, American Indian culture refused to die.
So in 2012, the story of Miranda is about the preservation of Indian languages and the ability - the freedom - to speak in Indian.
In fact, it is about being Indian.
posted February 13, 2012 8:20 am est
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