November 23, 2010

Language whipped out of Indians

Melvin Martin:  The importance of keeping Indian languages alive"There were two offenses, son, that made the boarding school people really mad at us and that was wetting the bed and talking Indian. Not talking in Dakota was hard for me to do because I didn't speak any English until I was five years old, and that's when I was shipped off to boarding school for the first time. Every morning right after breakfast that was usually cold cornmeal mush with sour milk and giant worms or moths in it, they lined up all the bed wetters and anybody from the day before who was heard talking Indian and marched us all down to this old oak tree. Once there, we all had to take off our pants and underwear, us boys, and then we were hoisted up and over a tree branch with an old rope that was tied around both feet. There we were, hanging upside down and swinging in the air with our private parts showing for all the world to see."

"Then, this older white woman who said she used to be a nurse in the British army and who worked at the school as a dorm matron, would take out this horse whip that had been shortened to about four feet in length. There were nine leather tabs that had the old-fashioned thumb tacks stuck in them, the big brass ones, that were attached to this whip." (Note: I later found out that an instrument like this is known as a "Cat o' nine tails" and was used by the British Navy to flog sailors who had committed various offenses at sea.)

"This old English hag would then just proceed to slice our butts to hamburger with that whip. Until I was ten, I'd always pass out from the pain and some older boys would carry me back to the dormitory. I haven't spoken a word of Dakota since 1950, three years before you were born." My father died in 2003.
Comment:  We've heard horror stories about Indians killed, maimed, and raped, but this seems almost as bad. Boys hung upside down from trees, naked, like slabs of beef. Then whipped until they passed out from blood loss and pain. And Americans wonder why Indian reservations are messed up? Here's your answer, people.

For more on boarding schools, see Libraries Hide Hidden from History and Tiles to Represent Boarding-School Victims.

Below:  Whipping the Indian to a bloody pulp to save the boy.

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