“We are taking you to a good place. A place where you can learn. Where you will be educated in the ways you need to know to survive in the world” the teacher said.
I remember the moans of mothers crying out as their children were torn from their arms and put up on the wagon. I see the silent questioning in the eyes of fathers, still.
The ride was long and hard. We were full of fear and confusion. Days passed. Nights were restless and filled with longing to go home. Stars fell and planets moved slowly across the sky. I heard my mother call me, I heard her say she would be with me. “Remember when you see the moon that I am there with you, watching you”, she said. I cried silently to sleep each night.
After 12 days we arrived. There was a large building with many windows and steps leading up to a large set of double doors. To the sides and back of the big building were a few small cabins. Where the teachers lived. Some people came out to greet us.
We were motioned down off the wagon and lined up. It was hard to know exactly what they wanted because we did not speak English. Soon they had us go in order from smallest to biggest into the big building. I was one of the bigger children near the end of the line.
I could hear inside a great commotion and crying. I felt afraid. The people had seemed nice and I didn’t understand what was happening. Soon I was led into the building. There was a man wearing all black. He was tall and did not smile. He motioned with a stick to go down a hall into a room. When I came to the doorway of the room I immediately turned to run back, but was stopped by two other men. There were all the children before me, some weeping, some looking very afraid, and some looking angry. We were all made to take off our moccasins and leggings. Each of us was given shoes and socks. Then we were led to a room where the girls and boys were divided. A woman took the girls into another room and a man stayed with the boys where they were.
The crying became louder some of the children kicked and tried to run. Our skins were taken and we were lined up again beside basins where we were shown to take bars of soap and wash. Once each child washed one by one they were taken again to another room where a man took each of the boys and cut off his hair.
We were given new clothes that did not fit us. The shoes hurt and made walking hard. It was a horrible day. The men at the school took from us our sweetgrass, prayer ties and medicine wheels. They took our feathers and beads. Some of the older boys resisted and were hit with sticks.
The upstairs of the building had two large open rooms. Each had a number of bunks across the length of the wall on both sides. Again the girls were separated from the boys and led to their bunks in the second of the two rooms. We were each given a bunk to sleep on and a shelf to put the books they had given us, our clothes and shoes.
We were left in the bunk rooms for a while before the man who wore all black came and motioned us back down the stairs. This time to a large room at the far end of the building that had a few large tables. We went in and sat down. The man and the other people who worked there sat down and motioned us to do the same. Soon after two women came with food in pots.
One of the boys began to eat as soon as the food had been put on his plate. He was quickly hit on the hands with a stick. The man sat down again and put his hands together and said words. When he was done talking he picked up a spoon and motioned it was ok to eat. The food was hot and even though it was not anything I had ever had before I was hungry and at it all.
Women came again and took the plates and utensils from the tables. We got up to leave but were directed to sit. The man lit the lamps and began to read from a book. When he finished we were led to the room with basins to wash again and then on to the bunks.
I don’t know if anyone slept that night. I stared out a small window looking to find my mother watching, looking for the moon. The moon did not come out that night. I cried and cried and cried for home.
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