In The School Days of an Indian Girl (1900), Zitkala-Ša recalls travelling from the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota to White's Indiana Manual Labour Institute, where she learned how to read and write in English. Zitkala-Ša was eager to see "The Land of Red Apples," as she called it, despite her mother's disapproval. She later attended college and became the college's representative in an oratory contest, winning second place overall. She experienced harsh discrimination from several audience members, but despite winning, she did not celebrate because she missed her mother and lamented her mother's resentment against her for leaving the reservation.
This text reminded me of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (2007), a novel by Sherman Alexie. The protagonist, Junior, resents the stagnant lives of his family and other members of the reservation. On his first day of high school, Junior punches his teacher, Mr. P, when he receives a thirty-year-old geometry textbook with his mother's maiden name on it. Nothing has changed in three decades. With the help of Mr. P, Junior transfer from his reservation's school in Wellpinit, Washington to Reardan High School, 22 miles away, where everyone except the school mascot is white. Junior's best friend at the reservation, Rowdy, gets upset with him. Junior becomes a valuable player for Reardan's basketball team, and defeats Rowdy's team in a match against Wellpinit. Throughout the novel, Junior is torn between two lives. He loves his family, and the bonds he has with people on the reservation, but he also likes his life at Reardan, where he is awarded many more opportunities than back home.
These two texts, separated by a century, are surprisingly similar. As a nation, how has America contributed to––and continues to contribute to––the displacement of identity that Indigenous people experience in their lives? What, if anything, has changed in all these years?
Zitkala-Ša. The School Days of an Indian Girl. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume C: 1865-1914, edited by Robert S. Levine, Norton, 2017, pp. 1133-1140.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Little, Brown and Company, 2007.