Thursday, January 23, 2020

Stringing Rosaries, A Review

A little girl kneels in prayer on the cover of Lakimodiere's "Stringing Rosaries." The title takes its name from one of the sixteen narratives within this book that recalls a story doing just this. 
Stringing Rosaries, A Review
A Must Read For Church Leaders
By Dakota Wind
Lajimodiere, Denise K. Stringing Rosaries: the History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors. Fargo, ND: North Dakota University Press. 2019. $42.95 (hardcover). 277 pages + xiii. Preface, acknowledgments, photographs, fold-out map, appendix, bibliography, index. 

Lajimodiere shares the post-reservation Native American parochial boarding school experience of the Great Plains in an absolutely powerful and heartbreaking narrative that is certain to provoke a sense of loss, anger, sadness, and hope. This is not an easy read. 

Stringing Rosaries begins with an introduction to the methodology of militarized education that was developed by Capt. Richard Pratt following the Civil War. Pratt was the superintendent of the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA where he subjected “new recruits” to an exhausting regime of corporal punishment to any who exhibited indigenous identity, namely that of speaking their language. 

Lajimodier’s research informs us that many children were stolen from their homes if their parents didn’t obey the mandate to send their children to school. Her work focuses on the boarding school experience of survivors from a variety of reservations, mainly in North Dakota, but all genuine and moving, and for this reader, close to home. 

Pratt’s model became the standard for native education. Lajimodiere takes readers through sixteen firsthand accounts of assimilation. Each account recalls a dehumanizing experience. Children were coldly stripped, washed, and deloused with powder regardless if they were clean on arrival. Hair was cut or shaved entirely. Children were excessively and cruelly punished mainly for disobeying authority and speaking their language. 

It would be easy to read only one or two of the survival narratives. In a sense, reading one is very much like reading them all. There is a general sameness of story, each school could be the same one but for location and name, but reading each one is part of the reader’s witness to understand the survivor’s journey. 

Boys were taught manual labor skills like carpentry and farming, girls were taught domestic skills like cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Boys and girls were strictly kept apart from each other, even in play or prayer. They were all awakened in the early hours for morning prayers. They were served coffee at every meal to keep them awake. Most disturbing of all, at any hour of the day or night, some children were sexually assaulted by both men and women of the cloth. 

Some of the first-person accounts are recalled under a pseudonym. Others employ their everyday names, and I am profoundly grateful that Dr. Ramona Klein (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) and Dr. Erich Longie (Spirit Lake). I know both through their work and have met both on occasion; Dr. Klein when she was employed at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND; Dr. Longie in his work with the tribal historic preservation office at Spirit Lake. 

Lajimodiere brings her work to a powerful close. She gives voice to her understanding of her father’s experience, of the native experience in assimilation: “...I came across terms I had not heard of before, terms such as historical trauma…[which] is conceptualized as a collective complex trauma.”

A year before her father took his last journey, Lajimodiere watched the documentary In the White Man’s Image with him. “The video documented the use of whistles, bells, bugles, military-style punishment and daily regimen, the building of guardhouses on school campuses, kids dying of homesickness, disease, and poor nutrition...that boarding schools left a legacy of confused and lonely children.” 

Part of Lajimodiere’s testimony is forgiveness. This is not the same as reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen there has to be an acknowledgment of wrong-doing on behalf of the Church. Lajimodiere tells us in her closing pages of well-being and story of the White Bison Wellbriety Journey of Forgiveness. 

Forgiveness, in this sense, is a deep sense of being wronged, something buried deep inside one’s soul, and a profound relief of releasing that tightly wound bundle of anger and loss. This isn’t something light or easy, nor is every person ready to forgive when neither the Church nor clergy has acknowledged these dark sins. 

Lajimodiere’s Stringing Rosaries isn’t a read for everyone, but it needs to be read by Church leaders and clergy. It should be read by people who call themselves Christian. Get your copy, or tell your minister to get one through the North Dakota State University Press.


1 comment:

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