Several years ago I co-wrote an extended review of Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground. For those of you who are intimidated by (or otherwise having trouble finding it on) the Way Back Machine, I'm reproducing it here (with apologies for formatting problems I'm struggling to fix). Immediately below the review essay is the accompanying essay "Literary License" or "Mutated Plagiarism." Until 2010, both were available on the Oyate website.
A Brief Digression about Pratt, Carlisle, and the Boarding School Experience
"They told us that Indian ways were bad. They said we must get civilized. I remember that word, too. It means 'be like the white man.' I am willing to be like the white man, but I did not believe Indian ways were wrong. But they kept teaching us for seven years. And the books told how bad the Indians had been to the white men—burning their towns and killing their women and children. But I had seen white men do that to Indians. We all wore white man's clothes and ate white man's food and went to white man's churches and spoke white man's talk. And so after a while we also began to say Indians were bad. We laughed at our own people and their blankets and cooking pots and sacred societies and dances. I tried to learn the lessons—and after seven years I came home..." (Nabokov, 1991, p. 222).
"By the mid 1870s, reservations had become virtual prisons, ruled like empires by authoritarian agents who were given almost total power over the Indians. Shut inside the reservations, where outside eyes could not see them, the Indian peoples were subjected to unspeakable abuses. Housing monies were stolen, food rations were inadequate or spoiled, people were left to die without medical treatment or medicines, others were forcibly separated from their families to be punished without trial for real or trumped-up offenses, and individual Indians were frequently murdered.
"The Indians were at the mercy of a system of corrupt government officials and private suppliers and speculators, known collectively as the Indian Ring, who, taking advantage of public indifference, cheated the powerless tribes. Trapped on the reservations, without freedom and the ability to provide for themselves in time-tested fashion or make their complaints known, the Indian families lived in poverty and misery."
"I would...use the Indian police if necessary. I would withhold from [the Indian adults] rations and supplies...and when every other means was exhausted...I would send a troop of United States soldiers, not to seize them, but simply to be present as an expression of the power of the government. Then I would say to these people, "Put your children in school; and they would do it" (Josephy, 1994, p. 432).
"The most painful story of resistance to assimilation programs and compulsory school attendance laws involved the Hopis in Arizona, who surrendered a group of men to the military rather than voluntarily relinquish their children. The Hopi men served time in federal prison at Alcatraz" (p. 13).
"It was very cold that day when we were loaded into the wagons. None of us wanted to go and our parents didn't want to let us go. Oh, we cried for this was the first time we were to be separated from our parents. I remember looking back at Na-tah-ki and she was crying too. Nobody waved as the wagons, escorted by the soldiers, took us toward the school at Fort Shaw. Once there our belongings were taken from us, even the little medicine bags our mothers had given to us to protect us from harm. Everything was placed in a heap and set afire.
"Next was the long hair, the pride of all the Indians. The boys, one by one, would break down and cry when they saw their braids thrown on the floor. All of the buckskin clothes had to go and we had to put on the clothes of the White Man.
"If we thought that the days were bad, the nights were much worse. This was the time when real loneliness set in, for it was when we knew that we were all alone. Many boys ran away from the school because the treatment was so bad but most of them were caught and brought back by the police. We were told never to talk Indian and if we were caught, we got a strapping with a leather belt.
"I remember one evening when we were all lined up in a room and one of the boys said something in Indian to another boy. The man in charge of us pounced on the boy, caught him by the shirt, and threw him across the room. Later we found out that his collar-bone was broken. The boy's father, an old warrior, came to the school. He told the instructor that among his people, children were never punished by striking them. That was no way to teach children; kind words and good examples were much better. Then he added, 'Had I been there when that fellow hit my son, I would have killed him.' Before the instructor could stop the old warrior he took his boy and left. The family then beat it to Canada and never came back." (Nabokov, 1991, p. 220).
"Did I want to be an Indian? After looking at the pictures of the Indians on the warpath—fighting, scalping women and children, and Oh! such ugly faces. No! Indians are mean people—I'm glad I'm not an Indian, I thought." (Josephy, 1994. p. 434).
"is to take away all sense of self, of community, of value, of worth, even of orientation, to be replaced by habits of mind and behavior that the captor finds acceptable. The boys and girls at Carlisle Indian School were trained to be cannon fodder in American wars, to serve as domestics and farm hands, and to leave off all ideas or beliefs that came to them from their Native communities, including and particularly their belief that they were entitled to land, life, liberty, and dignity.
"In a short time, the child comes to love and admire his captor,...a not uncommon adjustment made by those taken hostage; separated by all that is familiar; stripped, shorn, robbed of their very self; renamed.
"By and large the procedure was successful, although the legacy of damaged minds and crippled souls it left in its wake is as yet untold. Psychic numbing, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, battered wife syndrome, suicide, alcoholism, ennui—are there any names for psychecide? A century after..., the great-great grandchildren of decultured Indians struggle to find the world that was ripped away...by a deliberate, planned method euphemistically called education." (Allen, 1994, pp. 111-112).
A Brief Digression about Naming
"One day when we came to school there was a lot of writing on the blackboards. We did not know what it meant.... None of the names were read or explained to us, so of course we did not know the sound or meaning of any of them.
"The teacher had a long pointed stick in her hand, and the interpreter told the boy in the front seat to come up. The teacher handed the stick to him, and the interpreter told him to pick out any name he wanted.... When the long stick was handed to him, he turned to us as much to say, 'Shall I—or will you help me—to take one of these names?' He did not know what to do for a time....
"Finally, he pointed out one of the names written on the blackboard. Then the teacher took a piece of white tape and wrote the name on it. Then she cut off a length of the tape and sewed it on the back of the boy's shirt. Then that name was erased from the board.... Soon we all had names of white men sewed on our backs." (Standing Bear, 1928, in Allen, 1994, pp. 116-117)
About the Dear America Series and My Heart is on the Ground
"Dear America invites you into the personal experience of girls from different times in American History. The books and television show are inspired by real letters and diaries from girls who lived in extraordinary circumstances. You will experience firsthand what it was like to grow up and live in another time and place."
"Open Their Diaries.... Make History Your Own! Today's most distinguished authors lend their voices and talents to these moving narratives— presented in an intimate diary format—with each book extensively researched and inspired by real letters and diaries of the time."
"The entries are a poignant mix of past and present—Nannie's life with her family, encounters with other students, the horrific death of a friend, the efforts of both well-meaning and misguided adults. They burst with details of about culture and custom, adding wonderful texture to this thought-provoking book, which raises numerous questions as it depicts the frustration, the joy, and the confusion of one of yesterday's children growing up in two cultures."
"There I found the Indian burial ground, with dozens of white headstones bearing the names of the Native American children from all tribes who died while at the school. The names, with the tribes inscribed underneath, were so lyrical that they leapt out at me and took on instant personalities. Although many of these children attended Carlisle at dates later than that of my story, I used some of their names for classmates of Nannie Little Rose." (p. 195)
"Like Lucy Pretty Eagle, not all the children in the book were at Carlisle that first year. But like Lucy Pretty Eagle, their personalities came through to me with such force and inspiration, I had to use them. I am sure that in whatever Happy Hunting Ground they now reside, they will forgive this artistic license, and even smile upon it." (p. 196)
Lack of Historical Accuracy
"[B]efore he openly supported the plan and offered his sons as pupils, [he] stipulated that his daughter Red Road and her husband Charles Tackett should go with the children...and be paid a salary to act as their guardians.... [He] had the mentality to realize that these children, in faraway Pennsylvania, would be terribly frightened and unhappy if some adults of their own tribe were not there to protect and advise them." (p. 278)
"Spotted Tail [talked] in private with his sons and the other boys from Rosebud and found that most of them were miserable and homesick.... None of them had learned English or to read or write." (p. 290) "[He] took all his children, apparently four sons, a grandson, a granddaughter, and another small boy he claimed as a close relative. He carried them off under guard of Sioux chiefs and headmen, daring Pratt to try and stop him. Pratt was too overwhelmed to attempt that. He had to guard the rest of his school, as there were indications that a general stampede for the train might take place. As it was, some of the heartbroken children who were being left at the school managed to steal away and hide themselves on the train.... At Harrisburg the train was searched again and a little Oglala girl (Red Dog's granddaughter) was found and dragged screaming back to captivity." (Hyde, 1979, pp. 292-293)
"It seems curious that church people, humanitarians, and idealists should fall so much in love with Pratt. He was a quite ordinary army officer who had developed a marked ability for knocking the spirit out of the Indians and turning them into docile students who would obey all orders. Pratt was a domineering man who knew only one method for dealing with anyone who opposed his will. He bullied them into submission." (Hyde, 1979, p. 289)
Lack of Cultural Authenticity
Moreover, Nannie would not have been shamed by her brother's doing a war dance in the yard: "You are no warrior.... A warrior does not shame his people." (p. 39) More than likely, she would have supported everything he did because he was being extremely brave in rebelling.
Nannie would not have considered her brother "spoiled" for having been honored for counting coup on a dead enemy at age 12. "Spoiled" is not a Lakota concept; the honoring of children is; and counting coup is counting coup, whether the enemy is dead or alive.And, of course, Whiteshield would not have referred to his sister, or any girl, in a derogatory way, such as: "Only a stupid girl would say such a thing." (p. 39)
"participants offer Wakantanka the greatest gift they have, their flesh and blood.... The dancers move in a circle around and around and around. The circle represents our universe.... As the participants dance, they pray hard for their personal prayers and the prayers of the entire Lakota nation. Family members and friends stay nearby to offer their support and send their own prayers to Wakantanka." (Rose, 1999, pp. 34-35)
Stereotypical Treatment of Girls and Women
A Brief Digression about Lucy Pretty Eagle and Colonialism
A Brief Digression about Perspective
For additional comments about Ann Rinaldi's My Heart is on the Ground, see the accompanying essay “Literary License” or “Mutated Plagiarism”?
Marlene Atleo (Nuu-chah-nulth), is a mother and grandmother, adult educator and doctoral candidate at the University of British Columbia investigating transformational learning strategies in First Nations narratives.
Cynthia Smith (Creek) is a reviewer of Native-themed children's books.