The first time I saw this book offered from Dover I nearly fell off my chair. What I saw staring
back at me on the cover was . . . ME!! That woman is the spitting image of myself when I was younger. And now that I am reading it, I find myself still
staring, that two people could look SO alike, but I guess it is more common than I might realize. As I was preparing to write this review, I, as usual, did
research, and surprisingly, no other photo of her bore any resemblance to myself. The whole thing is very strange, but it gets stranger. She was a
musician—violin and piano. I was piano, low brass and voice. She was also a teacher and political activist! Oh, my. And a writer. My, oh my!!
And I have to wonder just how many times I have reincarnated as an American Indian.
I knew about the one in the 1600s and her name was Laughing Crow, which is also my legal name. But this one! I will have to do more past-life work to see if I
can dig anything up. In any case, even if we are not "related," I do feel some sort of tie, and from what I have read, we most certainly have
Zitkala-a was born on the Yankton Indian Reservation (Sioux) in South Dakota, in 1876 and died in Washington D.C. in 1938. She was raised by her mother. Her father was a German-American who abandoned the family when Zitkala-a was very young. (This is from Wikipedia, because she mentions nothing of her father in the book.) At age eight, she left the reservation to go to the Quaker Missionary School, White's Indiana Manual Labor Institute, in Wabash, Indiana, which taught speaking, reading and writing English to poor children, "white, colored, and Indian." She studied there for three years, lamenting being stripped of her heritage, but enjoying learning. Here she also learned violin. She left and returned to the reservation, but no longer felt part of that. At age fifteen, she returned to the school and studied piano and violin, then became a music teacher there. At her graduation, she gave a speech on "the inequality of women's rights." She continued her education at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, then studied and played violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, then taught music at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. She also began collecting American Indian legends, and writing about Indian life. This information, courtesy of Wikipedia
from the quite lengthy article on Zitkala-a.
The present book consists of two sets of stories, the first, American Indian Stories, published in 1921, which are mostly autobiographical, with some additional stories that were fictional accounts of her real experiences. The second set, Old Indian Legends, was published in 1901. I also want to comment that the reservation where she was born consisted of 134 million acres, which Congress stripped down to 15 million. Though Zitkala-a learned to live among whites, her mother did not trust the "paleface," and it is no wonder. Zitkala-a eventually married Raymond T. Bonnin, whom she knew from the reservation. She was "politically outspoken," at times, according to this Dover edition, which got her husband dismissed from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency created in 1924 to administer the Indian lands. She was a member of the Society of American Indians, and she and her husband founded the National Council of American Indians.
Now I will tell you just a bit about the stories found in this volume. American Indian Stories consists of ten sections, made up of very short stories.
The first, Impressions of an Indian Child, tells of Zitkala-a's early childhood before she went to school. She tells of helping her mother get muddy water from the river, and wondering why she is so sad. Her mother tells her how the paleface herded them away like buffalo, and her sister was very sick and so was her uncle. They both died on the trip. She asked her mother "who is this bad paleface?" and her mother answered, "My little daughter, he is a sham,—a sickly sham. The bronzed Dakota is the only real man." Zitkala-a always speaks with great reverence about her mother. On another occasion, she is excited to go to other wigwams to invite elders to visit. But there is a certain etiquette she must observe. She must first silently pay attention before entering, and if there is any indication that the family has other plans, she must not offer the invitation. She tells about learning how to do beadwork, and making her own designs. But she learned not to make anything too complicated, because she always had to finish what she started. I found the simple rules and disciplines refreshing. They were certainly not harsh, but set up sensible habits which would lead towards responsible adulthood.
She also tells of playing with her friends. They make-believe they are the adults socializing, and imitate them, which sounds like something I probably did. But it is when the palefaces arrive with promises of trees with lots of red apples, which the children could eat as many as they wanted if they came to the school, that changed her life forever. At age eight, Zitkala-a's mother does not want her to go, but, unusual for her, she cries and begs, and so she is permitted. The next set of stories is about those school years.
In The School Days of an Indian Girl, she tells of the frightening trip on the train, where white people stared at her. When she arrived at the school, a woman tossed her in the air and caught her in her arms, which was insulting and made her cry. She was reunited with the rest of her people at a table loaded with food, but could barely eat. Then she goes to bed and falls asleep fast.
The next morning she goes to breakfast, but does not understand the language, or what she is supposed to do. Then one of the other girls from her party tells her they are going to get their hair cut, which is a sign of being captured by the enemy. Then they got in trouble for falling lengthwise into the snow to see their impressions. I used to do that. We called it "making snow angels." The really terrible part is that, with one exception, none of these poor children even understand English. How were they to know what was right and what was wrong? How cruel.
She also tells a humorous story about having to mash turnips in a jar, which she hated. She took out her vengeance on the jar she was mashing, but when the lady came to take the jar to the table, the bottom fell out!! No turnips were served, and Zitkala-a felt a sort of triumph. On another occasion, she is warned about the devil, of whom she had never heard. But that night she has a nightmare of him attacking her, so the next morning, she finds the big book of Bible stories with the picture of the devil, and scratches his eyes out with a pencil, making a hole in the page! She tells of the iron rules and watching a friend die of consumption, and the mark it all left upon her life. "The melancholy of those black days has left so long a shadow that it darkens the path of years that have since gone by.
In the last story from this segment, Zitkala-a has returned home, but fits in nowhere. Her brother, also educated, and ten years her senior, comes by on his pony. When he is talking to his mother, she jumps on and takes off, and ends up chasing a coyote. She is fifteen, but still not allowed to attend the parties, and she is dismayed that the young adults now speak English and dress like the white people. After four summers, she runs away, back to the school, against her mother's wishes. She still fits in nowhere, but wants to go to college. She wins an oratory contest.
The last autobiographical section, An Indian Teacher Among Indians is truly bitter. She is stuck "between two worlds," one could say—disenchanted with the people of her tribe and sickened by the lies and hypocrisy of the "palefaces." In the last story in this section, "Retrospection," she says, "At this stage of my own evolution, I was ready to curse men of small capacity for being the dwarfs their God had made them."
When I saw an opium-eater holding a position as teacher of Indians, I did not understand what good was expected, until a Christian in power replied that this pumpkin-colored creature had a feeble mother to support. An inebriate paleface sat stupid in a doctor's chair, while Indian patients carried their ailments to untimely graves, because his fair wife was dependent upon him for her daily food.
I find it hard to count that white man a teacher who tortured an ambitious Indian youth by frequently reminding the brave changeling that he was nothing but a "government pauper."
My illness, which prevented the conclusion of my college course, together with my mother's stories of the encroaching frontier settlers, left me in no mood to strain my eyes in searching for latent good in my white co-workers.
For the white man's papers I had given up my faith in the Great Spirit. For these same papers I had forgotten the healing in trees and brooks. On account of my mother's simple view of life, and my lack of any, I gave her up, also. I made no friends among the race of people I loathed. Like a slender tree, I had been uprooted from my mother, nature, and God. I was shorn of my branches, which had waved in sympathy and love for home and friends. The natural coat of bark which had protected my oversensitive nature was scraped off to the very quick.
I have to point out here that anyone who reads history or historic novels should be well aware of
two facts: it is, and always has been all about money and power; and the human race has been barbaric since the Reptilian Invasion. We learned all this
from Alien invaders. If you are new to this website, please browse through my articles for volumes more information on this subject.
The remaining stories in this collection are not autobiographical, but historical fiction. The Great Spirit is about an Indian woman who speaks of her connection to nature while her mother and others in her tribe fall for Christian "superstitions." The Soft-Hearted Sioux" is a heartbreaking story about a Sioux who became a devout and honest Christian missionary, and who, like herself, fit in nowhere, with fatal consequences.
But the most disgusting story is The Widespread Enigma of Blue-Star Woman, which tells of a law concocted by white thievery, who insisted that in order to have land and support, each Indian most prove their birthright, which this woman could not because she was an orphan. But along comes two shysters that prey on these tribes, promising them whatever they want, providing they turn over half of their money and property to them as part of the bargain. In fact, they not only prey on these poor people, but cause even more problems that require their help.
The last part of this collection, called America's Indian Problem, speaks of the utter government corruption of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, on which Zitkala-a's husband served until he was dismissed because of her outspokenness. Here are some quotes:
NEED FOR SPECIAL CARE IN MANAGEMENT.
"The need for special care in the management of Indian Affairs lies in the fact that in theory of law the Indian has not the rights of a citizen. He has not even the rights of a foreign resident. The Indian individually does not have access to the courts; he can not individually appeal to the administrative and judicial branches of the public service for the enforcement of his rights. He himself is considered as a ward of the United States. His property and funds are held in trust. * * * The Indian Office is the agency of the government for administering both the guardianship of the Indian and the trusteeship of his properties."
GOVERNMENT MACHINERY INADEQUATE.
"* * * Behind the sham protection, which operated largely as a blind to publicity, have been at all times great wealth in the form of Indian funds to be subverted; valuable lands, mines, oil fields, and other natural resources to be despoiled or appropriated to the use of the trader; and large profits to be made by those dealing with trustees who were animated by motives of gain. This has been the situation in which the Indian Service has been for more than a century—the Indian during all this time having his rights and properties to greater or less extent neglected; the guardian, the government, in many instances, passive to conditions which have contributed to his undoing."
OPPORTUNITIES STILL PRESENT.
"And still, due to the increasing value of his remaining estate, there is left an inducement to fraud, corruption, and institutional incompetence almost beyond the possibility of comprehension. The properties and funds of the Indians today are estimated at not less than one thousand millions of dollars. There is still a great obligation to be discharged, which must run through many years. The government itself owes many millions of dollars for Indian moneys which it has converted to its own use, and it is of interest to note that it does not know and the officers do not know what is the present condition of the Indian funds in their keeping."
Absolutely criminal!! And this was THEIR land. And even worse, not a whole hell of a lot has changed.
I also want to point out that white people in this country have consistently created a "problem" with people who are not white, including Trump and Hispanic or Latino people, and, really just about everyone now, including lots of "regular" whites. I have an eBook collection I will read and post one of these days called "The Negro Problem," a collection of essays written after the Civil War by the country's most brilliant African-Americans on how to best integrate this body of newly recognized American citizens. If all the arrogant and selfish white people had changed their attitudes, perhaps there would NOT have ever been any racial issues in the country at all.
You may read the entire American Indian Stories collection for free at Project Gutenberg.
The rest of the book consists of the collection called Old Indian Legends, which also can be found at Project Gutenberg. These two works are all that are available there, so far.
Now here is a bit about Old Indian Legends, which Zitkala-a collected throughout both North and South Dakota. These are fun stories, great for children, to teach them proper etiquette, which seemed to be very important to the Sioux, and probably all Indians, as opposed to the rudeness of white people. They also teach the value of moral and ethical integrity, honesty, strength and bravery, and generosity—all great lessons for the little ones to learn, and the big ones, too.
As might be expected, these stories are filled with humor, and their characters are most often animals and fantastical creatures, comingling with humans. There are fourteen very short stories which take up a little over one-third of the book. By far, the most frequently appearing character is Iktomi, the spider fairy—the snare weaver, whose behavior is atrocious! But he never wins and always loses what he thought he gained through treachery. One time he even gets killed, but is back in the next story. There are only four stories where he does not play a role.
Many of the stories are continuations of the previous one. The Badger and the Bear tells of a Bear who is starving (and lazy, irresponsible and greedy), and walks into the Badger house, where Mother Badger has a well-stocked kitchen, and Father Badger is a good provider. But Black Bear begins to show up every day until the Badger's supplies are depleted. Then he throws the Badgers out of their house altogether. They are now starving, but the Bear will not contribute to their needs. Finally Badger goes to beg food, but sees a clot of blood from a newly killed buffalo. He scoops it up, then takes it to be purified. Out of it springs a handsome and strong young man, whom Badger calls "son." He is the Avenger, and deals with the Bear.
He reappears in Tree Bound, when a tribe is being constantly threatened by a huge man-eating red eagle. But the Avenger knows he is needed, and is soon to arrive. However, along the way, Iktomi snares him, requesting a favor which requires he climb a tree. Then he casts a spell, so the bark of the tree imprisons him. Iktomi steals the magic arrows and beaded buckskins of the Avenger, and sets out to kill the eagle and win his reward of his choice of the chief's beautiful daughters.
But, alas, his plan fails, because he cannot make the arrows work for him which happens in the next story, Shooting of the Red Eagle. Meanwhile, a young Indian woman sees the Avenger in distress and frees him. He then takes off to kill the eagle. Iktomi is found out and run off. The Avenger marries the beautiful maiden.
That is all I will tell you, but these stories can be read for free and I highly recommend both collections. Books like this really give one additional high doses of truth about the running of this country, WAY before Trump and going downhill through the years. I cannot imagine why anyone would believe these atrocities could go on forever. First it was the Indians, then the African-Americans, and now it is basically all of us who are not part of the extremely wealthy elite. We shall see very soon how it all goes, but my heartfelt belief is that this too shall pass. Finally.
For more reading on American Indians, please refer to their Index Page.
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