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Indian Childhood

The story of an Indian childhood was one told and retold by Native American writers during the Gilded Age. For the most part the story of an "Indian Childhood" took place before the child had contact with the outside world of white incorporation. Although contact between the races looms large in these stories, Zitkala Sa is warned by her mother in the story entitled "My Mother," that the "bad paleface" is a "sham,--a sickly sham"(38), these stories capture the essence of an existence that would soon be changed irreparably. As their use of the English language signifies these tales are told by writers who grew up in both the unincorporated world of traditional Native American culture and the world of incorporation. These stories, mostly autobiographical, capture the essence of the former world, a world which soon would be gone but because of these writers not forgotten.

Impressions of an Indian Childhood

by Zitkala Sa [Gertrude Bonnin

Zitkala Sa's "Impressions of an Indian Childhood published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1900 characterize the existence of the Indian child as one filled with story telling, hospitality, and love. Sa uses her story as a means to convey the peaceful existence of Native Americans as well as to demonstrate the inherent humanity of a people often described by the white press as "sub-human."

"Nedawi." An Indian Story from Real Life

by Suzette La Flesche

Suzette La Flesche, was first the published Native American artist and writer. La Flesche published this story under the English translation of her Native American name Inshta Theumba ("Bright Eyes"). This story though fictional was based on La Flesche's experiences growing up Native American in Omaha during the age of incorporation. The story was first published in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1881. Like Sa's Impressions, Nedawi reveals an Indian childhood full of innocence and story telling. Yet, unlike Sa who leaves comparisons between the upbringing of white and Indian children to her readers, La Flesche makes these comparisons overtly in her text. Nedawi is "no more perfect than any little white girl who gets into a temper now and then." She swings back and forth "pretty much as white children do." This story of La Flesche's, at this time an "inmate" at a boarding school for Indian girls, represents the similarities and argues for the common ground of humanity held between the white and brown races.

Indian Boyhood
by Ohiyesa [Eastman, Charles Alexander]

This narrative in contrast to the two stories above reveals the experience of the Indian boy. His story like that of Sa and La Flesche reveals a childhood of story telling. Yet, because of his status as a young man of a warrior race Ohiyesa's tale also shows the development of a young hunter and warrior. Ohiyesa begins his tale with the question "WHAT boy would not be an Indian for a while when he thinks of the freest life in the world? This life was mine. Every day there was a real hunt. There was real game." Like the other author's Ohiyesa's tale is shaded by his experience as a man who lived in the worlds of both the white man and the Native Americans. His writing style similarly combines the two worlds.


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Designed and Created by Laura Grand-Jean American Studies MA '01