Plans for cultural genocide as well as the stories of courage and oppression at the famous/infamous residential Carlisle Indian Industrial School appear in an unprecedented collection of essays, poems and photos entitled “Carlisle Indian Industrial School/Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations,” recently published by University of Nebraska Press and edited by Jacqueline Fear-Segal and Susan D. Rose.
This compelling gathering of work examines the legacy of the Carlisle experience through verse by noted poets N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa) and Maurice Kenney (Mohawk) along with essays by distinguished historians and scholars such as Fear-Segal, Rose, Barbara Landis and Louellyn White (Mohawk). It also includes the recollections and reflections of some descendants of the more than 10,000 Native children who attended the school between 1879 and 1918.
The book is divided into six parts—1) A Sacred and Storied Space; 2) Student Lives and Losses; 3) Carlisle Indian School Cemetery; 4) Reclamations; 5) Revisioning the Past; and 6) Reflections and Responses—and provides a panoramic view of the experience, including many poignant and heartbreaking stories.
The anthology starts out with a comprehensive introduction to the school, the historical context of Manifest Destiny, Native dispossession and a compelling re-imagining of how the Native children must have felt after being seized and sent far away to be forcibly “assimilated” into white culture. The removal of children, in effect the tearing apart of families and communities, was part of the attempt to “Kill the Indian, and save the man,” a seminal quote from the school’s founder and superintendent, Richard Henry Pratt who sought to change the children, beginning with their names.
One of the many themes in the book involves names, the white names given to Native children and the names on tombstones in the school’s cemetery.
“Names are especially important in Native American culture,” Momaday wrote in “The Stones at Carlisle.” “Names and being are thought to be indivisible. One who bears no name cannot truly be said to exist, for one has being in his name… In this context we see how serious is the loss of one’s name. In the case of the tombstones at Carlisle we are talking about the crime of neglect and negation. We are talking not only about the theft of identity, but the theft of essential being.”