Thursday, 19 August 2010
Zitkala-Sa "The School Days of an Indian Girl"
Zitkala-Sa wrote her stories in standard English for an educated Anglo-American audience in 1900, many of whom might never have met a Native American , and who would have known very little about their schooling.
Students sometimes wonder where these stories fit in.
Zitkala-Sa left the security of home and its familiar culture to go to school, with its inevitable somewhat different culture. She tells the story of an experience of cultural displacement.
The experiences of ethnic minorites such as those that Zitkala-Sa describes have contributed to the development of what Eric Liu, in "Notes of a Native Speaker" (chapter 12), calls an "ideology of race neutrality and self-reliance."
Forced cultural assimilation helped to create a culture that Richard Rodriguez describes in "Family Values" (chapter 7) as beset by "social breakdown" even as it celebrates economic and social freedom.
Zitkala-Sa describes the human and cultural cost of the policy of sending Native American children to white schools. She said that her community suffered from cultural dislocation and it has contributed to devalue their individuality and collective identity.
Zitkala-Sa (1878-1938) was the first Native American woman to write her autobiography by herself. She wrote to call attention to the cultural dislocation and hardships caused when the whites in power sent Native American children to boarding schools hundreds of miles away from home and imposed western culture on them.
At the age of eight she left the reservation to attend a boarding school in Wabash, Indiana, run by Quaker missionaries. On her return, "neither a wild Indian nor a tame one," her distress and cultural displacement were acute.
Historically, the Quakers have a reputation for being respectful of civil rights and very sympathetic to the preservation of minorities cultures. Quaker households, for instance, were often places of shelter for slaves escaping along the Underground Railway.
What factors influenced Zitkala-Sa perception of the school when she was in residence and later when she wrote about it?
What would have been the impact had she listed the abuses of Native American culture at the hands of European Americans in the same way that Thomas Jefferson describes the wrongs of the British King in the Declaration of Independence?