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 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.
“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” 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?”