I still don’t know her name


The US Army is making a token acknowledgment of crimes against American Indians by digging up and shipping back to their homelands the bodies of 10 children who died in their care. A lot of the Indian schools in the US and Canada were run by Catholic missionaries (including the one at the site of my university), but there were also some, like the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians in Pennsylvania, that were administered by the US government. They were all equally heartless and fundamentally racist. At Carlisle, the goal was to “Kill the Indian: Save the Man”, which tells you all you need to know about their appreciation for the culture the children they forcibly stole from their parents.

180 children died at Carlisle, and were buried on a local plot; many more died, but their bodies immediately shipped back to their homes. Apparently, the children who died of infectious disease, especially tuberculosis, were buried locally to prevent the spread of disease. Lots died because conditions were minimal and care rudimentary.

Now, finally, some of these kids who died over a hundred years ago are being sent back to families who have almost no memory of them.

The remains of 10 children who died at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Cumberland County between 1880 and 1910 are slated to be exhumed this summer.

Aleut family members will return the remains of one child to Saint Paul Island in Alaska, and Rosebud Sioux descendants will take nine children back to a tribal veteran’s cemetery in South Dakota or to private family plots.

Impressive. So we just rounded up kids from completely different nations, with different languages and customs, and threw them together in a dormitory far, far away from their homes. We took everything away from them, including their names.

Historian Barbara Landis wrote an essay debunking ghost stories surrounding a Rosebud Sioux child whose name translated to Take the Tail and who died within months of her arrival in Carlisle. Her name was changed at the school to Lucy Pretty Eagle and later used in a children’s historical fiction book as part of the Scholastic series, Dear America.

Landis and a group of non-native and native women wrote a review pointing out stereotypes and inaccuracies in the book, including its depiction of Lucy Pretty Eagle.

“She was not this ghost story,” she said. “She was a little girl who passed away far away from home under horrible circumstances and her remains were never returned to her home community.”

Take the Tail’s remains are among those of eight children being returned to Rosebud Sioux family members this year.

Picture this young girl ripped from her family in the fall of 1883, taken to this barracks 1500 miles away, and told that she was not allowed to speak any language but English. They take away her name and translate it literally into English as “Take the Tail”, and even that isn’t good enough, so they tell her her new name is Lucy Pretty Eagle, which has nothing to do with her culture, her history, or her family.

Then she dies in the spring of 1884. Her family gets a letter, nothing more. Her death is logged on a couple of 3×5 cards and mentioned in the school newsletter.

Finally, to complete her erasure, she’s turned into a character in a ghost story and historical propaganda.

To make up for all that, well, at least we’re sending her bones back to South Dakota now. What a feel-good story! Although her history won’t be complete until Disney makes an animated movie about her.

I do wonder what her name actually was — I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a string of English words, or a traditional European first name.

Comments

  1. po8crg says

    Assuming it’s a Lakota name that translates to “Take the Tail”, then it will be something like Siŋté Éyutȟaŋo, but that’s assuming they actually translated it correctly. It might have been “she takes the tail”, which is probably Siŋté Éyutȟaŋ

  2. lochaber says

    I grew up very close to that “school” in Pennsylvania. I mostly learned about it independently, probably during college, and at this point I can’t remember what we were taught about it in public school, aside from some stuff about Jim Thorpe being an Olympic athlete who survived the school. It was a pretty white-washed and sanitized description of the place though…

  3. maat says

    Just like the Australian ‘stolen generation’…
    Which is not ancient history but a present open wound.
    In Australia, an aboriginal woman who is the victim of domestic abuse not only gets no help, but is likely to end up in prison and her children taken from her because she is guilty of ‘failing to protect them’!!

  4. John Morales says

    maat:

    In Australia, an aboriginal woman who is the victim of domestic abuse not only gets no help, but is likely to end up in prison and her children taken from her because she is guilty of ‘failing to protect them’!!

    Overstating the case. This may happen, but it’s neither policy nor normative.

  5. maat says

    J M:
    It may not be official policy, but it does happen.
    How often is often enough for you?

  6. John Morales says

    maat:

    How often is often enough for you?

    Hm, a bit of a loaded question.
    Still: Never is “often enough” for me.

    Point being, as you acknowledge, it’s neither policy nor normative.

    Look: the stolen generations and the missions in Australia are analogous, no question there. But that it’s still policy or that there are no support structures now in place, that’s a bizarre claim.

    When it goes wrong, these days, it’s despite the system, not because of it.

  7. eveningchaos says

    I found out the other day from my mother that my great uncle taught at the residential school in Kamloops BC where they recently found the bodies of the 215 children buried. My mother found his memoirs and he was quite critical of how the Canadian government was attempting to erase the history of the Indigenous people. He lamented over the knowledge that was being destroyed and how we should be learning from them instead of them from us.

    I’m not sure how he could have made any changes in the role he was in as a young teacher, but it’s sobering to think that I am connected directly to this attrocity. I think of all the children whose lives were destroyed and the effect that intergenerational trauma still carries to this day on the Indegenous people of the Americas and all over the world for that matter. A direct a sad legacy of colonialism.

    The city where I live, Victoria BC, has wisely cancelled Canada Day celebrations this year. I think all nationalistic observances should be cancelled until there can be some real healing and reconciliation for the people who this land was stolen from. Then, maybe, there will be some reason to feel proud, but I’ve never really understood Nationalism, or Patriotism. I fell out of a Canadian woman’s vagina. Why should I feel proud to be a Canadian?

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