Growing up on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, I often wondered what outsiders thought of Lakota people. Recently I had a conversation with a friend I have known a long time who is Native American but is not from our reservation. My friend is older and memory is a challenge for my maske (friend) now.
I am reading a book on C.S. Lewis’ life, a memoir he wrote about growing up in horrific boarding schools in Europe. Nothing like the idealized versions in J.K. Rowling‘s stories about Harry Potter. What C.S. Lewis focuses on are the friendships formed from early boarding school times in his life to later when he studied at Oxford University. He defines what is “good” in his friends: truthfulness (veracity), public spirit, chastity, and sobriety.
C.S. Lewis’s life in an all-boy boarding school reveals a life where lies, selfishness, and taking advantage (sexual abuse) of younger children (boys) were prevalent. In that environment, he survived. He said, later in his life he had to work out some things in his life to get himself away from self-pity.
Some things he struggled with included his own beliefs. He wrote how he watched an “old Irish parson (church clergy)” who “lost [his] faith” but believed strongly in immortality. Immortality for himself (the old parson); to live on forever in some way.
C.S. Lewis thought the parson was wrong, what was important in life is what is here and now. Only in this life can we ever hope to find happiness.
Another experience he writes about is spending time with a friend who was on the edge of insanity. C.S. Lewis watched his friend cry out in fear about hell and falling into it. After going through that with his friend, it made him want only what was “ordinary” or “hum drum” in life. Maybe, wanting his friend back as he had been before.
Today, when older people are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, what people say about going senile, they are put in homes or places where they can be looked after. Today, health researchers are closely looking at memory and how it can be restored. That is where I find my friend whose memory is fading.
In our most recent conversation my older friend used the words “Custer-killer” in reference to me and my tribal affiliation. It brought up the thoughts I had growing up of what people really thought of us. I was ready to and did forgive my good friend for labeling me but the thought remained.
How has American history informed the public about us?
Our Lakota narratives and voices are ignored. Even though roughly 10,000 years of continuous occupation of our homelands had passed leading up the Battle of the Greasy Grass where our people fought for survival.
Historic labeling can be harmful especially when both sides of the narrative are not told as in what is happening in Canada where the graves of Indigenous children are being found. They, the government and churches, are uncomfortable with historic labeling.
In the case of Canada and the churches responsible for the deaths of the First Nations children, the voices of Indigenous peoples who have lived the historic trauma caused by residential schools there and boarding schools here, are silenced.
Yet, the deafening silence comes from the churches themselves and is even more noticeable since there appears to be an evading of responsibility. What we need now is the willingness of those at the highest levels to take responsibility and to act accordingly.
On a personal level, emotionally, it is very difficult, as an Indigenous person to forgive the killing of our most innocent and trusting children.
(Contact Delphine Red Shirt, Oglala, at firstname.lastname@example.org)