Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Unbreakable Code: Indian School

At the end of the bitter four-year confinement at Bosque Redondo the survivors of the Long Walk returned to their belolved homeland between the four sacred mountains. One of the stipulations of the Treaty of 1868 that allowed them to return was that all of their children between the ages of six and sixteen were to attend school. The government was supposed to provide the classrooms and a competent teacher for every thirty students. Since the roads were so bad and the winters so severe the children remained at boarding schools for months at a time, away from their families. In addition, it was the policy of the federal schools to expedite "acculturation" as speedily as possible. They were forbidden to speak Navajo while there. Punishment for this ranged from beatings with a strap to boys being dressed in girls clothing to having one's mouth washed out with strong soap.

The children were reminded constantly that they had to learn to dress, to speak, and to think like white people. They were to forget their Navajo upbringing and their Navajo way of life, which they had been taught was beautiful and good and given to them by their own Holy People. They were to forget all this in order to become like the Anglos and to pray to their deity. However, their parents and grandparents would not let them forget that the white man had been their enemy. He had subjected them to life on a reservation, had been responsible for the terrors of the Long Walk, deprived them of their land and freedom, and the right to many of their ancient ceremonies and religious rites. But more importantly, he still considered them savages and heathens.

As one can see from the preceding events, the Navajos had little cause to get involved in the "white man's war." However, they saw the attack on Pearl Harbor as an attack on the Navajo Nation as well as on the forty-eight states. They felt that the beauty of their Reservation and its holy ground must be defended. Although this may seem inconsistent with the treatment they received at the hands of Kit Carson and General Carleton, it is not inconsistent with the Navajo's love of their land.

Next: The war begins.

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