From Nightstand to Bookshelf

"The Spokane Indians" on my bookshelf.
The Spokane Indians on my bookshelf.

I finished reading The Spokane Indians: Children of the Sun and it wasn’t as sad as I thought it was going to be. Ruby and Brown did a great job of telling the history of the Spokane without making the tribe seem like victims who did nothing to help themselves.
I think a good example of the Spokane exercising their agency was when the American government wanted to place the area tribes on reservations. The tribe seemed to know that the American government would find a way to amend any agreement to the continued disadvantage of the tribe and therefore took a long game approach to the government offer to move. They waited. The Washington Territory began considering the idea of reservations in 1854. It wasn’t until 1872 that the American government’s Indian Affairs representatives began meeting with tribes to propose plans for moves to reservations. In 1881 the Lower Spokane reservation was established on “the most worthless and barren” land. The Middle and Upper Spokanes still did not have a reservation in 1887, but many members of the tribe were being to think the time had come to move. They made a deal with the American government and began to wait to see if it would be approved. In 1894 many of the Middle and Upper Spokanes began moving onto the nearby reservations for the Lower Spokanes and Coeur d’ Alene. By 1896 most of those who had held out moving onto the reservation, choosing instead to live on the outskirts of the city, also began to relocate onto the reservation.
One of the components that I found interesting was how difficult it was for the government to fill the teaching positions at schools on the reservations. Many of the tribes wanted their children to be educated in the white tradition; however, children’s attendance was not dependable. I think a lot of that had to do with the massive turnover of teachers who came and went from the reservation. Most of them lasted a year; a few teachers didn’t last that long. I think the revolving door of teachers sent a message to the children that their education wasn’t necessary. Why make an effort to go to school when there was a teacher? He or she would soon be gone. There was one teacher, Helen Clark who lived on the reservation for about six years and her enrollment and attendance seems to have been high and consistent. I think her time there had a lot to do with her success. She was able to build relationships with the children and her understanding of the tribe’s culture.
Clark’s school was a day school. At the time another form of education was boarding schools.
At Northwest History, there is a record of a Spokane tribe member, Lulu O’Hara, who went to the most famous boarding school Carlisle. Lulu had been attending the boarding school at “Fort Spokane Reservation School for six years” before her grandfather applied for her to go to Carlisle. Unlike Clarks school on the reservation that allowed children to remain close to their family and culture, the boarding schools were designed to separate the children from their heritage. The goal was the total assimilation of white culture, but, as pointed out in the article, not as equals to the white population but as “manual trades[men] or as domestic servants.” Lulu graduated from Carlisle and worked in domestic service before returning to her home. Read the entire article here.
The Spokane Indians is a great first step for anyone who wants to learn more about the history of the northwest. While waiting for Amazon to send your copy, pop on over to Northwest History to learn more about Lulu and the other people who made this amazing part of the world their home.

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