Charles Trimble: Don't mess with this 84-year-old Dakota lady

My wife tells people that I am a failed retiree. She’s right, of course; I should have accepted retirement graciously and started collecting stamps or butterflies, or bought a pickup truck for a year round circuit of wacipis.

But instead I took up an avocation of journalism, which I abandoned forty years ago to accept the directorship of the National Congress of American Indians. Actually, I took up as a columnist and perhaps should not be considered a journalist, per se, for columnists just write opinions on things, which may not have much or any relationship to fact and truth.

Some of my columns have made enemies who send me nasty email and blog notes questioning, among other things, my truthfulness, my sanity and my legitimate birth. But, quoting another columnist who’s been in the business longer than I have, hateful mail comes with the territory. Live with it.

Being an elder gets me no quarter when it comes to hateful mail. Even a few Native youth who are admonished to respect elders just fire away when I try to assuage with truth their intergenerational anguish.

I had noticed that, increasingly, when a young native Nale rises to speak to an Indian audience he will first apologize to all the elders for having the audacity to speak in front of them. It is something that these youngsters are learning is expected of them in a real Indian society.

Maybe those Native freshmen in college ought to be taught to say, “To all the people out there in the audience, I shake your hand and offer my heart to speak the truth. But before I speak, I want to apologize and beg forgiveness of the elders for having the gall to speak out before you. But I beg forgiveness only of the elders who agree with what I believe and what I have to say. The rest of you dumb old buzzards can buzz off!”

That wouldn’t be nice but it would be more honest.

On the other hand, I’ve gotten considerable mail online from people my age and older who tell me of their Indian boarding school experiences, including several emails from a woman named Maxine (whose name I won’t divulge to save her the indignities of hate mail).

Maxine is an 84 year-old Dakota lady – Sisseton Wahpeton on her mother's side and Lower Sioux Community of Minnesota on her father's side. She attended elementary school in the Lower Sioux Community and at the Pipestone Indian Boarding School in Pipestone, MN in the 1930s. After completing the 8th grade there in the spring of 1941, she went on to high school at the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota.

When the opportunity presented itself for her to go the University of Minnesota in 1995, 50 years after graduating from high school, she took it and went on to get a degree in Women's Studies. Here are some excerpts from her emails:

“You are so right about what is being taught about American Indians, even in classes that didn't pertain to them. In one Women's Studies class, the TA told the class that American Indian Children were kidnapped from their homes and placed in Indian Schools. I raised my hand and told her that I went to Indian Schools and I wasn't kidnapped."

“In the American Indian History class, the instructor had a hand-printed note on the over-head that said that John Collier, Indian Commissioner, knew when most of the people would be gone from the reservation when the vote on (IRA) reorganization was to take place. When I asked how we knew that, she told me ‘Because I'm telling you.’ The only thing I could think to say was ‘Well, maybe I don't believe you.’ To her credit, at the next class, the first thing she did was say she did some research on the subject but couldn't find anything. If I was a young student I wouldn't have dared questioned her, but as a 70-year old student I was fearless. Maybe every class should have an old student in attendance."

“After I graduated, I did some writing for Bill Lawrence's Native American Press, Ojibwe News. When Wade (sic) Churchill's book, Kill the Indian, Save the Man, was featured in Bill's newspaper, I wrote an article about my Indian School experiences. Imagine my surprise when someone who was both at Pipestone and Flandreau when I attended those schools, wrote a scathing rebuke of my article and said, among other things, that he was an inmate at Pipestone and that Indian schools boarding schools were not a viable option for any family. I responded to his article and wrote that I remembered him in Flandreau as a Big Man on Campus, which he was, so I didn't think life at a boarding school was that terrible for him."

“I also told (a Television reported) that victimization had its appeal to those who see themselves as victims and to those who seem to need victims. I am writing my story but don't know if it will ever get published. I think it is an interesting story."

“I worry that those voices that promote untruths (about boarding school life) are the only voices that are being heard. I especially worry that the voices from my generation aren't being heard. I get so frustrated because I feel that I am speaking for my grandparents’ generation and my parents’ generation. They would be appalled about what is being taught today."

“Oh yes, besides getting a degree at 73, I went sky-diving on my 80th birthday. If you are interested in seeing an 80 year-old Dakota woman sky-diving, my grandson who flew up from Texas to jump with me, taped it and put the video on Youtube.”

Perhaps I am too cautious not to include Maxine’s last name to save her the indignity of getting nasty emails from promoters and purveyors of victimhood who will insist that she is a liar and a denier. I think any person who will skydive for the first time on her 80th birthday can handle any whippersnapper who is dumb enough to challenge her. I can’t wait to read her book when it is published.

Charles "Chuck" Trimble, was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. He was principal founder of the American Indian Press Association in 1970, and served as Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians from 1972-1978. He is retired and lives in Omaha, NE. He can be contacted at cchuktrim@aol.com and his website is www.iktomisweb.com.

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