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I sat at my computer today to write the story of growing up Indian, Breed or what ever term you would prefer. First I thought I'd check the headlines in the national papers. The New York Times had 3 headlines listed, the third was "Study Says Indians Are Violent Crime Victims at Twice National Average."

Thinking that surely this is a mistake, I clicked the headline, and sadly saw it wasn't a typo or mistake of any kind. It really made me feel it is even more important for all Native Americans to tell their story. Especially if they were the victum of the mentality that causes crimes like these.

If you wish to read the New York Times article and continue on to the study from the U.S. Department of Justice, you can do so here. I was fortunate and found a perfect picture for the New York Times article and received permission to use it for that page.

Now on to my story.

I was born in 1938 in the State of Washington to a white father and an Indian mother. We lived on the reservation for the first five years of my life. All was not peaches and cream as my mother had very poor parenting skills.

She had been taken from her mother at the age of five and placed in an "Indian Boarding School". This was not done for any altruistic reason, it was done to eridicate the Indian language, heritage, and religion. It has had far reaching effects upon the Indian community. I will write more on that at another time.

The way we learn to be a parent is to be parented. When you are raised in an institutional setting you never get the opportuntiy to have a role model to copy. Therefore you have no parenting skills and make many serious & stupid mistakes. My mother was no exception. It did not help that she had disappointed her family when she married a "white eyes"

Her mother, my Indian grandmother, was a local boot-legger during prohibition and was well regarded by a segment of the community. My earliest memories of my Indian grandmother all include booze in one form or another. Looking back thru family pictures there is not one picture of her with out a drink of some type in her hand.But I digress.

When I became old enough to go to school my father moved us off the reservation as he felt that the school system was 2nd rate. He was most likely correct as most of the funds for Indian schooling were concentrated on the boarding school system.

After we moved away from the reservation things went from fair to terrible. My mother had few skills to cope with the white world and we three children had even less. At that time in Washington and Idaho the commonly held belief was the only good Indian is a dead Indian. And it was preached to one and all.

I remember seeing signs on doors to places of business that read "No dogs or Indians allowed". One sign had even added, "If we have to have one, we'll take the dogs."

Native Americans were not allowed to vote until 1954.
Native Americans are the only people with an entire government bureau dedicated to the management of them. Yes, MANAGEMENT. Prior to 1934 one of the stated goals of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was the "Americanization" of the Indian people. It was their job to eradicate the culture, history and religion of the people they "managed".

My father worked in the lumber industry and we moved around a lot. In one of the towns where we lived they were proud of their old "hanging trees". There was one for whites, one for Orientals but none for Indians. They just shot them, without a trial, so there was no need for a "hanging tree." In all fairness I should mention that most Orientals received the same treatment.

Eventually the three of us ended in an orphanage. Our father had walked out on our mother and this threw her even further down the path of alcoholism. The state of Idaho, where we were living at the time, gave my mother 90 days to "clean up her act and get a decent job." She was working in a tavern at the time and we children were being neglected. Rather than hunt for a job doing something else, she looked into putting us into an Indian boarding school. As luck would have it they were all full. So the state took us from her and placed us in the Northern Idaho Childrens Home, a fancy name for an orphange.

At the orphanage things were rough as we three children were the only Indians in a white orphange. For the next two, almost three years I was in many fights. I became so used to fighting that if someone walked up behind me and tapped my shoulder, I came arround swinging and was ready to go. It took many years to get over that reaction.

I am not claiming that I won all my fights, but I didn't lose too many either. It was a matter of survival. I had myself plus my brother and sister to take care of. By the time I got in high school I had a reputation as someone "not to mess with" so the fighting slowed down. The comments had slowed also; after all, they knew I'd just as soon punch them as look at them.

During my 7th grade of school my father showed back up in our lives. Eventually he remarried and he and his new wife took the three of us out of the orphange. We had been there for two years and nine months and during that time I learned to be wary of all whites.

When I was old enough to get a job all I could get was menial work. The good jobs went to the whites, after all the only good Indian was a dead Indian. All thru high school the only jobs I could get were house work, babysitting, picking fruit and other menial jobs with no future and very low pay. Hey, I made 35cents an hour. Magnificent sum!!

The summer after I graduated from high school my father and step-mother moved to Colorado. I went along because I hoped to be able to get away from the discrimination I faced daily in the Northwest. I had done some checking and knew that there weren't many Indians in the area, so just maybe......

After we got to Colorado I still couldn't get a job. I couldn't figure out the reason so I asked my step-mother's sister why. She told me that the people I had applied to thought I was Mexican and they were reluctant to hire me for that reason. (A delicate way to word the local feelings) Because of the years I had spent picking fruit every summer I had a very dark tan that didn't fade. So now I was in an area where there was no prejudice against Indians, and people thought I was a Mexican and they were on the bottom of the ladder there.

That was my first awareness that no matter where we live there is someone who is treated less than they should be. I had seen that the orientals were treated pretty shabbily while I was growing up. However I was too young and too busy trying to survive to really pay attention.

I remember one of my children coming home from school and asking me "What am I?" I finally figured out that he wanted to know what nationality he was I told him Indian and White. I was amazed when he burst into tears. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he didn't want to be Indian "cause they are the bad guys in the movies."

Things have gotten better in one respect. There no longer are the signs on the doors to places of business. However, long taught and well learned lessons die hard. It really is better, more people are trying to overcome what they were taught. But we still have a long way to go.

This is the hardest article I have ever written. To write about other people and things is easy for me. But to dredge up the memories that are connected to this subject hurt. The little girl that suffered thru all of this, and more, is crying. The grown woman who is writing the article is crying too. Please don't let our tears be in vain. Learn to love all people and to celebrate their differences. For it would be very boring in this world if every one were all the same.

completed on 2/24/99

To read the sequel to this please go to
Another Drunk Indian

A special thanks to Marsha for the editing. I really needed her help as it is a difficult subject for me and I could NOT have written this without her encouragement and support. So if you don't like it blame her, NO NO, not really. The content is strictly my own and she gets nothing but praise, for without her this story would never have been told. WG

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