2/03/2009

AN OPEN LETTER TO KATIE

Thank you, Katie (a courageous 7th grader from Minnesota) who is looking for research help for her history day project. What follows is our correspondence from February 2009.


Ms. Landis,

Hello, My name is Katie. For my seventh grade history day project I am doing Richard Henry Pratt and the Carlisle School. I have been researching this topic a lot and your name comes up many times. I watched a movie called, "Our Spirits Don't Speak English" and I saw you were in it. Also your name is mentioned on many websites.
I was wondering if you could help me. I need four more primary sources for my project even though I am cutting down on facts. A primary source is someone that was there at the time or someone who ad a family member there. I also need more help understanding how the school ended. Pratt was over ruled by making so many enemies and then the inspector person also ruled him out, but is that all that happened?

I was hoping you could help me with this project with ideas. If you can please e-mail this e-mail back

February 5, 2009
Carlisle PA

Hi Katie,

Thank you for your interest in the Carlisle Indian School.

I no longer encourage contact with "first person" primary sources for the Carlisle school because of the very shoddy work done by the producers of the movie you watched. I was horrified to see the objectification of native people by their representation in that film and after much discussion with relatives of Carlisle students who agree with me, I am resolved not to make my contacts available to strangers. There is a very special connection that is cultivated among friends - any friends, and if that can happen between native and non-native people, that's a good thing. Those kinds of relationships take time, patience and open-mindedness. But it's not ok to "study" people who have been disenfranchised from their communities because of prejudice, patronization and greed. It's because of my strong feelings about this that I can't help you with putting you in touch with relatives of Carlisle students. I've learned a good lesson from the results of the movie "Our Spirits Don't Speak English," and I guess with this preachy email, I'm sharing that lesson with you. I hope you accept it as a gift from me, to broaden your understanding of the importance of the sensitivities involved in these kinds of projects.

You can use photographs and newspaper articles as your primary sources and read between the propagandistic lines for the truth. If you're interested in this, I'll be glad to help you. But /people/ as primary sources are no longer part of my research collection. I hope this helps you to understand this history and these issues a little better.

I think the best explanations for why the Carlisle school was discontinues are found in David Wallace Adams' book, EDUCATION FOR EXTINCTION.

All good wishes with your project.

Barbara Landis

6 comments:

Helen said...

Barbara,
You seemed to have missed the point of the documentary you are critiquing here. The Native people in the movie were not "objectified" as you stated; they were treated as human beings with a grievous story to tell. For some of those who shared their story, it was a healing path.

The documentaries purpose is not that far removed from what you state is your purpose in compiling the history of Carlisle as you have stated on your website at http://home.epix.net/~landis/, "It is our purpose to respectfully honor those students and their descendants who lived the experiment, to celebrate with those who prospered from it, and to grieve with those whose lives were diminished by it."

I understand as a person compiling the history of one of the institutions that attempted to "kill the Indian while saving the man" you would be offended by the revelations of those that experienced the offensive tactics; what I don't understand is why you would discourage a seventh grader from utilizing research techniques that have been utilized to write the history of every nation in the world.

I know for a fact that this documentary has had a healing effect on at least one of the interviewees because my husband, Andrew Windy Boy, was featured in the film. Do you remember his story?

Respectfully,
Helen Windy Boy

Barbara Landis said...

Dear Helen,

I think I did miss the point of the documentary, in fact - I'm sure I missed the point. The film was disjointed and confusing. I hope your husband was compensated for his courageous footage, and I hope he's benefiting from the royalties for the sales of the film. I hope Beverly Conrad and the other informants were and are compensated for their work. If the experience for Mr. Windy Boy was cathartic and provided healing then I'm reassured. That's a good thing. I know from the experiences of the Canadian First Nations Peoples' Truth and Reconciliation project, that healing is taking place and I've always hoped that would trickle down to the people in the U.S. who were also hurt by the legacy of the boarding schools. I don't think this film accomplished that but I hope that ultimately, there will be opportunities for the stories to be told and to be heard.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to grieve with Andrew as he revealed his most intimate reactions to what happened to him as a child at boarding school. I thought the film exploited and objectified the people interviewed by the way it featured Andrew and others. The audience had no right to be privy to such soul-searching, raw responses. I felt like a voyeur - an unwitting observer to something very painful that was inexplicably thrust into the spotlight. It was graceless and undeveloped. I know what the producers were "going for" because I was there when another relative bared her soul. After her interview, the filmmaker was gleeful - but she was distressed. Maybe it was cathartic for her, as well as for Andrew, but that wasn't the impression I was left with. I haven't had the courage to ask her about this - because of my guilt for exposing her - but maybe it's time for me to do that.

I'm not offended by the revelations of those who experienced what happened at Carlisle. I never, never get used to the consequences of it. I know about boys who were taken away in the middle of the night and made to sit on priests' or teachers' laps and unspeakably defiled by authority figures. I understand the consequences of girls being disciplined by older girls in a regimented, militaristic, loveless world with no mother or grandma nearby to soften the blows of abuse. These are the legacy of the mission schools, and the reservation boarding schools, and the off-rez schools like Carlisle. And I hope and pray the courageous efforts of Andrew and Beverly Conrad and the other native folk who were willing to share their stories in the Rich-Heape film will pave the way for a good film that benefits native people.

I just don't feel that "Our Spirits Don't Speak English" accomplished that and so I can't in good conscience, recommend it.

Thank you for your willingness to help me understand your thoughts about this and for opening this door so that we can all participate in dialogue about this troubling era of all of our histories.

Sincerely,
Barbara

Anonymous said...

As I read your strident, self-righteous letter to a seventh grade student who came to you seeking help on a research project, I must agree with Helen Windy Boy.

As I have read over your blog entries, I see that you often miss the Point: Neither the recording of history nor the multi-faceted nature of humanity are exact sciences, and whatever progress human beings may be able to achieve in their understanding of one another is reflected more in an honest attempt to do so than in an imperfect end result.

Respectfully,
K.Washko

Jacqueline S. Homan said...

Barbara,

I don't understand what it was you found so confusing. The interviewees like Andrew Windy Boy told how the "Final Solution" against the Indians was enacted by bifurcating an entire generation from the ways, values, customs, and language of their parents...and how they were taught to hate themselves but worship their oppressor. Seems rather straightforward to me.

Anonymous said...

Hello Barbara,
I am trying to get a list of the names of the students who attended Carlisle Indian School because I think my great grand parents were enrolled there. I would need to know who they were. I can't email you from the website because my computer is not set up that way and there is no email listed on the website for you. Please contact me saluskin@uoregon.edu

Lizzie Cornish said...

Barbara, I do not understand your comments either. Last night I watched this film for the first time. It was Andrew Windy Boy who brought me to it, after I'd found a short clip of him speaking, taken from the main film.

His pain was palpable. And it was his grief which touched my heart immensely, as I'm sure he touches the hearts of many.

I did not feel 'voyeuristic' as you said you felt. I felt privileged that Andrew chose to share his memories, his feelings, with the world about this, despite the deep pain it so obviously caused him.

I totally understand why he wanted to tell his story too. I read his wife's comment earlier, Helen...and I'm so glad that the making of this film has helped him in some way.

I would like him to know that he has touched the souls of many out here, and that his story, the story of all those so wrongfully abused, is getting out, across the world.

The way the American Indians have been treated for so very long, even to this day, is shocking and unbelievable. What is even more shocking though is that so many Americans, and others around the world, know *nothing* of what went on, what still goes on.

It is time to end that silence..once and for all.

Lizzie