People Speaking

There are a million diversions from the path Genevieve Bell and I originally set out to explore when we compiled the lists of names for Carlisle Indian School students in the early 1990's. It has always been our intention to get the names to the nations, and that's the main purpose of the Carlisle Indian School web pages. We have gotten distracted along the way - 'Vieve with her international work for Intel - and me with new grandchildren and traveling to conferences and tribal centers, sharing Carlisle stories with nations. We never had a clear itinerary but were determined to let the road take us where it led and I've been enriched and sometimes horrified at the side trips. What happened at Carlisle was not always a bad thing for some; what happened at Carlisle was rarely nurturing in a good way for most and what happens to us as we confront the responses by relatives doesn't always make us wiser. But we (finally) are learning to listen to people speaking.

I'm always amazed at the reactions of relatives unprepared for the news that aunties and uncles, grandma's and grandpa's were Carlisle alumni. That's because for generations no one spoke about it. Now, the times are changing and descendants of Carlisle students reach out more and more in friendship, to share the stories of their families. It seems almost everybody knew Jim Thorpe even though Carlisle enrolled students from 1879-1918 and Jim Thorpe was in attendance between 1907-1913 give or take a year or so (playing baseball in North Carolina). Everybody's gramma and auntie dated Jim Thorpe and everybody's grampa and uncle played ball with him. Football? Baseball? Basketball? No matter! Thorpe excelled at all sports.

The student name lists are full of surprises. Sure, you knew that Grandpa Joseph had been at Carlisle but what a shocker to find out his wife had been a student, too. And Aunt Laura and her sisters. Who knew?

Every day people speak more and more about this. Yes, the people are speaking and the people have spoken. And their voices are real, authentic and mindful of the consequences of generations of young people constantly being chastised or punished for speaking their own language, or for singing their own songs to bring the sun up. They are the offspring of "bad boys" who ran away and then wrote back to their "school father," and "How is 'dear old Carlisle?'" It's a powerful legacy and complex and horrible and lovely all at once. To trivialize this history with a one-dimensional representative film, or book, or poem, might bring attention and prizes - but really, the people have spoken. And their voices are way more complex than much of the shoddy misrepresentation we've been getting lately.

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