August 14, 2008

Our Spirits Don’t Speak English

A fine documentary on a subject most Americans don't know enough about:

Rich-Heape Films Releases New Documentary

“Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School”Native American owned Rich-Heape Films announces the release of “Our Spirits Don’t Speak English: Indian Boarding School,” a documentary that examines an educational system that was designed to destroy Indian culture and tribal unity.

When it began in 1879, the philosophy of the Indian boarding school system was “to kill the Indian and save the man,” the mission statement of Captain Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania until 1904.

Jim Thorpe (Sauk and Fox), the iconic hero survived the boarding school system. Grace Thorpe (Sauk and Fox), his daughter, in her last interview before she passed away on April 4, 2008, discusses boarding school experiences in the new documentary.

The battle against and the victory over the boarding school monster is told by educators, former and current students who were interviewed at Carlisle; Sherman Indian School, Riverside, Calif.; Sequoyah High School, Tahlequah, Okla.; Anchorage, Alaska; and other locations.
Our Spirits Don't Speak English, Review'Our Spirits Don't Speak English', from the "Circle Of Life" Series by Rich Heape Films, portrays the early days of the Indian Boarding schools. The content of the film is historically documented and the stories given by the Native Americans in the film are from personal experience, having attended the boarding schools themselves during their formidable years.

These people tell of the drastic changes made in their lives by being assimilated into the federally controlled educational system for American Indian children. They tell how their way of life, from the simplicity of daily childhood play to their spirituality and the teachings of their ancestors were torn away from them. Their language, which was the essence of their spirituality and who they were, was forbidden them.

They have memories of being subjected to strict discipline, punishment and abuse by those in charge at the boarding schools. They also tell how it affected their life and family relations when they were allowed to return home, having been fortunate enough to survive the confusing and tormented years, after graduating from the schools.
Our Spirits Don't Speak English: Indian Boarding School"Our Spirits" Speaks Truth about Tragedy and Triumph, July 10, 2008
By Mary BT (Michigan)

"Our Spirits Don't Speak English" masterfully moves you from disbelief through outrage to resolve as it focuses the light of truth on one of darkest periods of cultural genocide in American history. The Indian Boarding School concept is a perfect example of good intentions gone awry and bad intentions gone amuck. Using interviews, photos, and old film clips, Gayle Ross gently but purposefully exposes the practice of assimilating indigenous children into a foreign white culture, and the devastating effects on these young people as well as on generations of Native Americans to follow. Some of the survivors' interviews are painful to witness, but you can't look away as you're drawn in by their raw courage--to tell the truth, to relive the trauma, and to ultimately triumph over tragedy. It is a MUST SEE for all who are willing to stare America the Beautiful's ugly little secret in the face. The movie speaks to our spirits in a very clear language about accountability, forgiveness, and the need to move forward together.
Boarding School Native American Indian

Comment:  The video trailer gives you a hint of what the full documentary is like. The fast-paced editing and visual and sound effects make it better than most documentaries of this type. If you haven't heard the boarding-school story before, it should be an eye-opener.

Our Spirits Don’t Speak English ends on a hopeful note. The plan to "kill the Indian, save the man" failed, says narrator Gayle Ross. Boarding schools gave Indians the tools--knowledge of the white man's culture, language, and laws--to help their own people.

Rob's rating:  8.0 of 10.

P.S. If you were ensconced at a boarding school, I guess it would be fair to call your formative years "formidable years."

For more on the subject, see Native Documentaries and News.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Fortunately for writerfella, he escaped the boarding school debacle, but not entirely. When he first attended college in 1959, the BIA only gave educational grants to attend colleges and universities near Indian boarding schools. Thus, writerfella was forced to attend Kansas University and to board at Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas. The conceit was doublefold: avoid having to pay college room and board AND place the grantee under BIA supervision. It didn't quite work the way the BIA wanted as writerfella joined an engineering fraternity and maybe spent one night a week at Haskell...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

From an e-mail:


Thank you so much for your timely review on Our Spirits Don't Speak English. I have subscribed to your news letter at Newspaper Rock. It is publications like yours that are the life blood to companies like mine.

Best Regards,
Steven Heape
Rich-Heape Films