exploring: our land

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I've always felt it important to really understand the land where one's feet are planted.

I've become the coolest mom to my girls since they've discovered where I grew up--the very spot where the little princess Pocahontas and her father, Powhatan, lived.  (Gloucester, Virginia was the site of Werowocomoco, capital of the Native American Powhatan Confederacy--a union of 30 tribes under Powhatan.)

Over the years we've spend some time at our own Historical Society Museum learning more about where we currently live in Carlisle, PA.  The staff is always a bit surprised/confused when  I come, stroller and all, with lots of little kids in tow, to take on the local museum.  We take our time and get to know this town's history--and there's a lot. (I have bragging rights, though, since my hometown was established in 1651 while Bobby's hometown, here in Carlisle, was established a whole century later!)

Quite by accident, our interests in our little historic town led us right into the most incredible discovery at the most incredible moment... Indians.

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{Children with cut hair and dressed in "white man clothing" in front of the Carlisle Indian School here in Carlisle}

Right here in our own town was the Carlisle Indian School.  It was an Indian boarding school, one of the first in the country.  The goal was to assimilate over 1000 children from 39 tribes from all over the country to learn the white man's way and leave their own culture behind.

It has been a fascinating and saddening experience as we've learned about these Indians--who these children were and what they had to give up in terms of their lives, families, comforts, and heritage.

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We've poured over a book we bought at our Historical Society, [amazon_link id="B002B9ESBU" target="_blank" ]Changing Images: The Art & Artists of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School[/amazon_link], and learned about some of the young children, when they came to the school, and what they remembered from their life on the land before coming to the school.

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The whole book is of these children's art.  The art is beautiful and tells the most incredible story of the tradition and pride of their tribes.

One of our favorite children was Alvan, a Sioux Indian.  He arrived at the school at the age of 12.  Page after page in this book shows the incredible life and chase of the buffalo from his life.  The memory of his Indian life was still alive in his mind as shown beautifully through his art.

A few years later he died.  Here is a letter that Luther Standing Bear wrote to his father:

Dear Father Standing Bear:

Day before yesterday one of the Sioux boys died.  His name is Alvan.  He was a good boy always.  So we were very glad for him.  Because his is better now that he was on earth.  I think you may be don't know what I mean.  I mean he has gone in heaven.  Because he was a good boy everywhere.

Luther Standing Bear

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We recently had a beautiful experience as a family of walking through the Carlisle Indian School Cemetery here in Carlisle. And there was Alvan's headstone.  So many of the children lived such a short life.  Some from sickness and disease, some from trying to escape the school, and so on.

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Lucy Pretty Eagle has quite the story.

From the book [amazon_link id="0759107793" target="_blank" ]A Broken Flute: The Native Experience in Books for Children[/amazon_link],  it reads:

Long hair had a great significance of Lakota people.  Traditionally, was and is cut only in times of mourning.  At Carlisle, children's braids were looped off to frighten and subdue them, to "cut them off" from their people.  When Pretty Eagle gets her hair cut, Nannie (her friend) says

Pretty Eagle is very frightened.  I held her hand while they cut her hair.  When it was cropped short, she shook her head and only she laughed.  "It feels so light," she said, "I think I will like it."

This reaction to the cutting was quite uncommon since it was usually met with screams and crying.  Lucy Pretty Eagle would only live a few years at the Carlisle School before she would die.  Her death has created a well-known ghost story of her possibly being buried alive by being in a self-induced trance.

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There are too many more stories to tell, so much more for us to discover ourselves.  We see how delicate life is.  And what history can do for a town.

I especially have experienced so many emotions.  The thrill of learning the past and the sorrow for these children that would never make it back home to their homeland.  And yet, some that finished the school would move home but not to live an Indian life, but to become farmers and marry.  They would lead a new but a fulfilled life.  And for them I am happy.

 

 

For more information you can learn more about The Carlisle Indian Industrial School here.

More about Lucy Pretty Eagle here.

And although I'm sure it isn't totally accurate (and a bit more dramatic) there is a segment from the series on TNT Into the West about the Carlisle Indian School.

 

the sleepy time gal