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STORIES ARE LIMITLESS


Stories are either written or oral, and are at the base of every civilization. Even cultures who had no written language had storytellers. At a lecture by F. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian writer and educator, he stated that at some time in everyone’s life, he must know from where he came. The Native American has no such problem, because he has been taught the legends of his people over and over his entire life. He can recite his family tree for generations back, and can also remember and tell stories about ancestors long dead.

Stories are painted and carved on rocks throughout the world. Reminders to us that we are not unique, and that those who have gone before us left their legacies for us to interpret.

In the 19th century, missionary schools began popping up on reservations all bent upon teaching the white man’s ways to the Indian children, but in 1870 the first off-reservation schools were organized to ensure that children would come to be Euro-American.

Emmett
“Emmett Oliver” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Our good friend Emmett Oliver, dear friend and educator, recently celebrated his 101st birthday. His mother was a product of one of the off-reservation schools, forcibly taken from her family. Tales of mothers clinging to the fences outside these schools are heartbreaking.

1163
“A Hole In My Heart” Stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It was said that a hole formed in the hearts of mothers so that her children could climb back in.

Children were given American names, and boys were given short haircuts and American-style boots. All were taught to work for their keep. Often when boys returned to their homes they knocked the heels off their boots and returned to moccasins.

Once back in the arms of their families, they again became part of the stories of their family.

I Am Home
“I Am Home” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In this sculpture, the child, standing within the warmth of the blanket, is surrounded with the stories of his people. He hears the words once more, and again feels a part of the story.

“What cannot be changed must be accepted. What is accepted must be endured. Back when we were a people on foot, running up and down the mountains, we lost our advantage. People took our land, our children. We accepted everything, except the loss of our children. When you look at us now you will see a big hole in our hearts. This is so our children can climb back in. We go out to your world and come back, trying to decide which way to go. The young travel to places they think will give them everything. After awhile, they come home. They stand in the plaza, looking up at the mountains, seeing our ancestors. We older ones say nothing. Isn’t silence better than a scolding?”

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19 comments on “STORIES ARE LIMITLESS

  1. So beautifully written. I am so very grateful that you are my mother and that your heart has always been open to me, my children and to all of our family and friends.
    Love you Mom

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  2. The connection to something larger than yourself and the knowledge of just where you fit in the universe are the very ingredients needed for a happy and satisfying life. The hole in the heart story is very moving as is this post. How beautiful your creations are, Kayti.

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    • Once I knew of the stories of the “hole in the heart”, it resonated so strongly with me I had to do a series of sculptures. It seemed a fitting way to depict the tremendous sorrow of the many mothers who were forced to watch their children being taken away.

      In later times, some fine Indian colleges were formed all over the country, and our friend was fortunate to teach at Bacone for a time.

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  3. The story of aboriginal children being forced to adopt the European culture resonates here in Australia with dire consequences as well. The story of the stolen children clinging to their mothers has also happened here on a large scale.
    I am amazed at how well and creatively you managed to convey your thoughts into your wonderful sculptures.
    A great post. Thank you Kayti.

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    • Why is it that we try so hard to make other people just like ourselves? Are we so special and successful at life? Each newcoming population has tried to remake perfectly satisfied people into rank images of themselves, and then hates them for it anyway. With the feeling of being “less” the conquered ones behave badly which reinforces the opinions of the conquerors. In a subsequent post I will tell Emmett’s story and what he has done to help these people.

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  4. Written with such compassion, Kayti, a lovely post.

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  5. I remember seeing your portrait of Emmett Oliver some time in the past. Once seen, it hardly can be forgotten. The same might be said of your sculptures, and of the stories behind them.

    I’ve ceased being surprised by the way our paths of attention cross. Just yesterday, I began a new post about Indianola, Texas. One thing led to another, and soon I was reading about Indianola, Washington, Ole Hanson, the first mayor of Seattle, Chief Seattle, and the Suquamish people.

    I finished reading this page before coming here (including the details of the “Americanization” policies) and thought to myself: it’s good that the Suquamish — and all of the other tribes — have friends like you to help them tell their stories.

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    • Oh – I forgot to mention that I also found Ole Hanson was responsible for San Clemente. Talk about some good stories. He provided more than his share.

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      • Boy, you refreshed my memories of early Seattle, and what a treat it is. We lived only 5 years there, but our daughter has lived there since UW days so Seattle remains part of our lives. I loved the article about Ole Hanson. The Norwegians were big settlers there. Seattle has a way of “pulling” you into it. I count the time we have spent there as being some of the happiest. Maybe it’s because it rains so much and you are either sitting by your own fire or someone else’s reading a good book or eating good clam chowder. I’m kidding of course. In my own case, it gave me a great opportunity to learn about the North Coast people from Emmett as I had begun learning the Southwest people from his wife Georgia.

        I am going to do a follow-up to yesterday’s post to talk about Emmett. Interesting man.

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      • San Clemente. Haven’t been there in years, but a long time ago my daughter and her youngest son was sitting on the beach there watching the older brother of 12 surf the low waves. The young smart -alec quietly remarked “He’s not very good is he?” Today that one is 40 and a die-hard surfer and the “not-so-good” one a cowboy. Life holds many surprises doesn’t it?

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  6. How ghastyl were those ‘missionaries’ … we had them here, too, of course. Arrogant god-botherers intent on showing how much more they knew that the simple indigine. Ugh !!!!

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  7. I recently read “Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese. It tells the story of one boy’s experience in a residential school in Ontario and the effect it had on his life. For all its sorrow, it is an uplifting tale.

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    • I haven’t heard of this one. I will check into it. These stories are heartbreaking, but if the will to succeed is there inside…..no telling how far a kid can go. Each country seems to have tried at least to educate whether they wanted it or not. Australia and New Zealand, Canada and U.S. My way or they highway!

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  8. Katyi your sculptures are so descriptive, they say so much. I wish I could see them in person! Thanks for sharing them with me.
    Your stories of the woes of Native Americans at the hands of the government of the day are not much different that those here in Canada. Such a sad legacy, persisting to this very day in my country. I am not always proud to be Canadian.

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  9. It was a sad discovery for me when I first became aware. Why is it we always choose to denigrate those who are unlike ourselves? I’m certainly not of a hugely “liberal” mind, and I do believe people have to account for themselves. Things are different in these days from the past. Education and technology have reached into the hidden spaces of our world, and people don’t go down without a fight. I have a sign in my studio which says “At the end of the day, only kindness matters.”

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