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Feb 04 2012

Catholics Still Trying to “Kill the Indian”

At the Sacred Heart Catholic Academy in Shawano, WI, just off the edge of Menominee reservation, which holds about half the state’s Menominee population, a seventh grader was recently suspended from a basketball game for teaching a friend a few words of the dying Menominee language.

The principal told Washinawatok that the assistant coach told him she was told by two teachers to bench Miranda for attitude problems.

The alleged ‘attitude problem’ turned out to be that Miranda said the Menominee word

“posoh”
that means
“hello”

and said

“Ketapanen”

in Menominee that means “I love you.”

Miranda and a fellow classmate were talking to each other when Miranda told her how to say “Hello” and “I love you” in Menominee.

“The teacher went back to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, “How do I know you are not saying something bad?”

The story did not end there. In the next session, another teacher told Miranda she did not appreciate her getting the other teacher upset because “she is like a daughter to me.”

That’s right: teachers ganging up on a student because she is part of a world they are not, because she dared to spend time in that world in front of them, because someone speaking a language they haven’t learned must be assumed to be doing something bad.

In this, of course, the Catholic school teachers were continuing the policies of Richard Pratt, the founder of the first U.S. residential school specifically designed to wipe out Native American culture. His is the infamous quote:

A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.

Remember that the next time someone wants to tell you that what happened in the boarding schools did not constitute genocide. It was explicitly intended to. Remember it also when you hear people talking about how immigration is acceptable as long as people assimilate. Remember the cultural heritage of people who insist those around them should speak only English.

The Menominee language is a highly endangered language as a direct result of the actions of Pratt and those who followed his lead–and of the Roman Catholic church. The church ran the boarding school on the Menominee reservation, a school where the native language was deliberately killed off.

Marie Warrington Floring doesn’t recall much of her childhood.

But some painful memories of growing up in a boarding school for Native Americans still linger.

Violating rules was met with harsh discipline; even worse punishment was meted out for speaking Menominee. For Floring and others — who went months each year without seeing parents or siblings — feelings of isolation were the worst of all.

Miranda is one of the few people of her generation to speak Menominee. Her grandmother is a linguist and very actively involved in preserving the Menominee language and culture. Miranda speaks Menominee at home with her family. But when she spoke it in public, when she tried to teach a fellow student (60% of whom are also Menominee), her Catholic school teacher decided she was doing something wrong.

Then, because it wasn’t enough to be told that anything the teacher couldn’t decipher must be something bad, Miranda’s pride in her heritage was marked as bad attitude. The punishment for that wasn’t simply meted out by this teacher, either. Two teachers ganged up on this child and persuaded the basketball coach to punish her for them. Instead of taking any interest in the heritage of 60% of their students, these teachers used their authority to try to wipe it off the map.

Ah, how far we’ve come.

31 comments

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  1. 1
    Alyson Miers

    They’re punishing a kid for sharing her language skills, sharing knowledge with a fellow student, and showing her love of learning. That is really counter-productive behavior in a school, of all places.

  2. 2
    Pteryxx

    *rage* How the HECK is this still happening in a year starting with 2?

    Can we republish those Menominee words until the whole Internet knows them?

  3. 3
    chigau (違う)

    A quick trip to Wikipedia tells me that 42.6% of Wisconsonites are of German ancestry.
    If the kids had been speaking German what would the teacher have done?

  4. 4
    gwen

    Chigau…nothing, absolutely nothing…

  5. 5
    Sili

    If the kids had been speaking German what would the teacher have done?

    Well, the teacher would have understood what was being said, and wouldn’t have felt threatened by insubordination.

    /Godwin

  6. 6
    grumpyoldfart

    Catholics ill-treating children! What a surprise.

  7. 7
    starskeptic

    Sili@5 nicely played…

  8. 8
    shouldbeworking

    “Learn what we tell you. No independent thinking allowed.” has been one of the most important rules in religion-run schools for many years. I’m embarrassed to have narrow-minded people like that in the same profession as me.

  9. 9
    Erp

    Actually Wisconsin had a law forbidding the use of German in all schools (private or public) for teaching major subjects circa 1890 (it got repealed after a few years). However nothing like the forced ‘acculturation’ of the Native Americans happened.

    When the US entered the first World War Iowa banned the speaking of German in public or in schools and there was a great deal of anti-German sentiment nationwide (and also in the UK) which forced people to anglicize names and cease using German in public.
    http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ht/39.1/frese.html

  10. 10
    Ulgaa

    Sounds like what my grandfather did. He would not allow my grandmother to teach their children (my mother and aunt) Spanish, because he didn’t want anyone saying anything bad about him that he couldn’t understand.

  11. 11
    Crissa

    Of course, when an article gets written about schools I swear parents and kids act very childish about it.

    Remember the article about enraged parents for a teacher instructing kids not to say ‘bless you’ in class? Because it turned out they were using it to take up class time as a prank, but that was left out of the article.

    Certainly, the comment ‘how do I know you’re not saying something bad’ shows in a bad light… But on the other hand, if the teacher is responsible for what they’re saying in a group, that is true. Politeness would dictate not speaking in another tongue when some in your audience can’t understand you (barring circumstances).

  12. 12
    Aliasalpha

    “it wasn’t enough to be told that anything the teacher couldn’t decipher must be something bad”

    To be fair, that’s nothing new, look at their approach to science

  13. 13
    frankb

    Aliasalpha, Touche!

  14. 14
    michaelpowers

    This sort of thing is abusive, and can affect a child well into their adult life. The school’s “public apology” was decidedly less than that.

    There have always been two types of people. Long before left and right, or liberal and conservative. One set believes that most of humanity is comprised of people who are lazy, stupid, and/or evil, and need to forced into doing what is right. “How do I know you are not saying something bad?” is a perfect example of this mindset. I don’t know where it comes from. Some perverse interpretation of Original Sin (as if it weren’t perverse enough on it’s own), or maybe their own moral bankruptcy. I’m not sure I want to know. It’s a darkness I hesitate to peer into.

    Others believe that most people are decent, hard-working folks, just doing the best they can, and, if given a choice, will choose what is right.

    I fall into the latter category. Am I wrong? Of course. Sometimes daily. I still choose to assume that people are good, until they demonstrate otherwise (a little healthy skepticism doesn’t hurt, either). It’s infinitely better than the alternative. Because that way lies the basest, cruelest part of human nature.

  15. 15
    Irreverend Bastard

    This sort of thing is abusive, and can affect a child well into their adult life.

    That’s the whole point of doing it. Smack them hard when they’re “misbehaving”, and they’ll remember the “lesson” their entire life. Mission accomplished.

    If someone protests, just apologise. Lesson still learned, and mission still accomplished.

    Anyway, schools are no longer meant for sharing knowledge, they’re there to teach children how to be proper little All-American Christians.

  16. 16
    David Marjanović

    HULK SMASH

    Politeness would dictate not speaking in another tongue when some in your audience can’t understand you

    “Audience”? It was a private conversation. The teacher in question is too paranoid to be a teacher and must be fired.

  17. 17
    TomeWyrm

    Christian school. I am, sadly, completely unsurprised.

    Fair warning, the rest of this post is my opinion. I’m probably not going to change it, but well-mannered responses are always welcome; especially dissenting views. It’s probably flame-bait, but my opinion has a tendency to be strong and hit touchy subjects. Please don’t start a flame war because of me!

    Then again, I am a self-admitted misanthrope with a hate-on for organized monotheistic religion, and a bit of a soft spot for the human race. I think it’s a product of a bad environment, bad rearing, bad brainwashing, and other external influences that are making the human race into the – well… let’s be nice and call it less-than-ideal – state that it is currently in. I think the human race has a great deal of potential, and individuals should be judged based on their merits and flaws, and then re-evaluated as new data arises. I also think that יהוה worshipers in their currently organized form are a blight upon this earth that should be eradicated with fire, lots and lots of it. I have nothing much against faith, though belief in something without evidence is… troublesome. I have the most problem with the “organized” and “monotheistic” problems. The jewish/islamic/christian god is a faceless and almost de-personified powerful being. Perfect being for use as a figurehead in a bid to gain wealth or power. Power which has been abused time and time again by Christianity and Islam. (I’m not as well-versed in Jewish history, but I only need to look at the Crusades to see Islam and Christianity smacking each other around a lot for nominally peaceful religions.

    Anyway, I should really stop ranting to a bunch of skeptics, some of whom are atheists.
    Thanks for putting up with my ranting and raving! :-)

  18. 18
    Marshall

    I also think that יהוה worshipers in their currently organized form are a blight upon this earth that should be eradicated with fire, lots and lots of it.

    I will just say that I really hope this isn’t a literal representation of your position, because that would be a terrible and entirely irrational thing to think.

  19. 19
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Crissa: Fucking context, how does it work?

  20. 20
    TomeWyrm

    The people themselves? No. The organizations, their brainwashing, their techniques, the exploitation of deeply rooted human motivations to gain personal power, political power, money, or other ill-gotten rewards? Yes.

    Do you know another institution that can cross national boundaries to inspire a cause to go kill that group of people over that way who did nothing to us other than existing?

    How about one that condemns people to eternal suffering because they were born somewhere that wasn’t on the list? The cause that attracts crazies by giving them a history of action that appeals to them, and a metaphorical text that can be easily warped to fit their worldview without anyone in the same camp objecting? A group that nominally is about support an understanding, but when you read the subtext it’s about superiority and exclusionism?

    No, I think ORGANIZED religion is a perversion of faith that needs to stop. I have nothing against faith in and of itself. Faith is a powerful force in the human mind, it can do a lot of good. But all I’ve seen organized religion do is exploit that faith for their own ends. Sure they have charities and run food banks, but do they do these things because they were good people already? If they are, then organized religion wasn’t helping except as a networking tool.
    Are they doing these things because if they don’t, they will rot in some eternal prison for bad souls after they die? Then they are being coerced into doing things. I hear tell that’s illegal somewhere, and not something that you’re supposed to do according to societal mores.
    Maybe they’re doing it because everyone else in their local religious grouping is doing that? Wow! They’re following the herd. If their whole group jumps off the local bridge, will they do it too? (See cult mass suicides).

    I see no positive benefits to the massive organization of religion that even come close to outweighing all the negative attributes, potential for abuse of power, and history of doing just that. I also don’t see anything that couldn’t be taught, shared, or put forth as an example outside of the framework of religion. Morality is not something exclusive to Jesus pundits, Mohammed acolytes, or Jehovah’s disciples, the followers of the writings of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, or the devotees of the Mother Goddess and Horned God. If you want to follow this, that, the other, or none of the above; it should be a personal choice, with personal consequences, and none of the goddamn business of anyone else.

  21. 21
    Anthony K

    “The teacher went back to where the two were sitting and literally slammed her hand down on the desk and said, “How do I know you are not saying something bad?”

    Yet another limitation of prayer.

  22. 22
    scenario

    I’m currently studying for another teaching certificate and the homework I just finished was about how teachers need to respect students cultures in order to be an effective teacher. It also talks about how subtle racism and other discrimination can be.

    Ironically, the college I go to is a Catholic college. (I had two choices and the college I chose had much more flexible scheduling and better overall teachers.) The college and most of its teachers is mostly secular except for the religion classes. I seldom defend religion but not all Catholic schools actively teach discrimination all the time.

  23. 23
    Kevin, Youhao Huo Mao

    Missed this when it rolled around (stupid sickness.)

    My tribe (Pamunkey) has no connection to its original language, although it was not because of religious reasons but because of racial reasons that we lost that language connection. Rather than be maligned and treated poorly, we adopted the customs, language and nature of the Europeans. We lost a lot of our culture and our identity, even, because of racism.

  24. 24
    TomeWyrm

    @ scenario

    Not all of ANYTHING possess certain traits. Not all Catholics are zealots, not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Irish can drink alcohol like water, not all Americans are fat and stupid.

    I’m glad you found a fairly secular Catholic college, but I’m of the opinion that there shouldn’t BE such a thing. Even if we have to tolerate organized religion, it shouldn’t be in our education system. Faith is almost the antithesis of academic learning, it has a n important place in the world, but that is not in our education. Messing it up with nonsense like in the gay-bashing Minnesota school district, or forcing schools to give equal airtime to creationism (when they can’t crowd evolution out completely). Especially in primary schooling, and to a lesser degree secondary. By the time you’ve reached post-secondary education you should be able to ignore the religious overtones, but you really shouldn’t have to filter your education through so much skeptecism.

  25. 25
    Red-Green in Blue

    Politeness would dictate not speaking in another tongue when some in your audience can’t understand you (barring circumstances).

    As someone who over the last year has learned to speak a “minority” language (Welsh), I will turn that around: Politeness would dictate recognising the deliberate and sustained harm done to peoples whose only fault was to be sitting on “our” land or “our” natural resources. Or even just to be different, and therefore clearly inferior (at least, that is the necessary conclusion given the still-prevalent assumption that White Anglo-Saxon culture is by definition the pinnacle of human culture).

    Perhaps, instead of acting like ignorant pricks, these teachers could learn the local language? The gods forbid that they might also broaden their cultural horizons, gain a better understanding of how their minority-culture pupils view themselves and the world, and thereby make themselves better teachers in the process…

  26. 26
    TomeWyrm

    Actually it is rude to deliberately exclude someone. If you’ve made a conscious choice to use a language you are aware someone does not know, in front of said person, for the express purpose of person not understanding? That’s quite rude.

    The use of a language you are reasonably sure others do not know so as to have a ‘secret’ conversation is rude, arrogant, and tends to backfire hilariously.

    Using a language in an effort to teach someone, or to better them via field practice (especially with innocuous words), however, is NOT rude. Though it will likely be seen as such due to lack of trust. What the Native American girl did was not rude, and even if it was slightly, a simple explanation should have cleared it all right up instead of escalating into this shitty bigotry.

  27. 27
    Uncle Glenny

    @shouldbeworking:

    “Learn what we tell you. No independent thinking allowed.” has been one of the most important rules in religion-run schools for many years.

    Except in much of science, of course, where they must be exposed to alternate viewpoints so their long-developed critical thinking skills can be used for them to think independently to decide which version of reality they prefer.

    /snark

    Massachusetts had a similar rule for the text on vanity plates when I bought my first car in 1979: if the person approving the license plate text couldn’t understand it, they probably wouldn’t approve it.

  28. 28
    ischemgeek

    @shouldbeworking

    “Learn what we tell you. No independent thinking allowed.” has been one of the most important rules in religion-run schools for many years.

    Not just religion-run schools. I got the same message quite clearly in my secular school…. especially from my English teacher who told me not to use big words and my third grade teacher who suspended me for insisting that 2×3 is 6, not 5.

  29. 29
    TomeWyrm

    @ischemgeek, Uncle Glenny, and shouldbeworking

    That’s a common trait among humans in general. Fear what you don’t understand, and destroy or suppress what you fear.
    That trait was one of the reasons I failed so miserably at school. I had it drilled into me that being more skilled was a bad thing, that advancing to my mental abilities was going to be worse for me than failing at my current lessons out of boredom, that enjoying myself (silently and in the back of the class I might add) with reading materials after I had finished the lesson was unacceptable, and hundreds of other lessons that said to me I was scum for existing, that I was unimportant, that EDUCATION wasn’t the goal at this institution. I powered through most of my primary education on a combination of raw talent, occasional encouragement from the adults in my life, my love of learning, and a facility with tests.

    Then I started my secondary education and at the same time I finally got fed up with them feeding me fecal matter from a male cattle, they started grading homework as more and more of my grade (that problem I blame on myself, and is a long story), and I discovered I had sleep apnea after I’d dropped out from what the symptoms had done to me.

    If I recall correctly, I had 6 F’s out of 8 classes in my final semester; the other two were Band and PE, which were attendance based and I think I had a C in PE and a B in Band (I was overweight and the sleep apnea made me tired… PE was skipped as often as I could con someone into giving me a note)

    I’m hoping that with extra years under my belt, my sleep apnea under control, and more freedom in class choice; I’ll be able to put up with college education’s bull$#!% when I finally figure out how I’m going to pay for it.

  30. 30
    susan v

    Please share this story with the world.  There is just no excuse for this burying of American Indian Culture to continue after all the assaults leveled on these people.

    I have written many petitions, but I’ve never seen one with so many comments — some are beautiful, even forgiving, but all are passionate. Language is important – vital – and should be preserved.

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Ketapanen-not-four-letter-word/

    Susan V

    Please read the bottom of page 64 and page 65 to see why this incident is so disturbing.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=PGlrk2-sf3cC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=student+punished+for+speaking+menominee&source=bl&ots=XoUQf8usIh&sig=Ip-AORdK-W__JcTx1Cxvdi7MWVA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=fRM3T9GpCOXe0QHIgMWtAg&sqi=2&ved=0CFcQ6AEwCQ

  31. 31
    erik martin

    How can I help these students? I want to help

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