The Development of Identity and Pride in the Indian Child

Article excerpt

Esther Burnett Horne (1909-1999) was an inspiration to many whose lives she touched. A great-great-granddaughter of Sacajawea, the young Shoshone woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the northwestern United States in 1805, Horne became well known in her own right for her contributions and commitment to the education of American Indians. When she was fourteen years old, Horne began attending Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas, a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding school. She completed her teacher education with the Normal Training Department at Haskell Institute and was recruited to teach in BIA schools. She taught for a year at the Eufaula Creek Girls Boarding School in Oklahoma and then began a thirty-five year career at the Wahpeton Indian School in Wahpeton, North Dakota.

Horne became a demonstration teacher for BIA summer inservice workshops. While at Wahpeton Indian School, she established the first Indian girl scout troop in the United States. In 1960, she was a delegate to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. A master teacher who was loved by her students and colleagues, Horne received the Distinguished Service Citation from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1966. After her retirement in 1965, Horne continued her involvement in education. She consulted for schools and colleges across the country and abroad, gave many presentations to groups of students and teachers, and became an advocate for the educational concerns of American Indian people.

Those interested in learning more about Esther Burnett Horne are referred to her life history, Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher, published in 1998 by the University of Nebraska Press. The writing of her life history was a ten-year collaborative project with Sally McBeth, an anthropologist at the University of Northern Colorado.

The following paper was originally written by Home in the late 1960s when she presented and distributed the paper to teachers during inservice workshops. Home felt that even though her paper was written in the 1960s, many of the points she wanted to make at that time are still relevant and many of the issues she addressed are not yet resolved. She hoped that in the near future all educators would have knowledge of American Indian cultures and would understand and know how to address educational concerns of American Indian youth, their families, and communities.

-Cynthia B. Leung


What I want so desperately to share with you is not taken from books or the experiences of others. It might be termed an overview of my life: as a student in public and BIA schools, as a dedicated teacher in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as a demonstration teacher in a public school embracing both non-Indian and Indian students, as a mother of two Indian children who were the first Indian students in an elementary school in the area where we lived, and as a consultant to teachers and students in schools, colleges, and youth groups.

Identity and pride are the criteria for success. An individual without identity is like a plant devoid of nourishment. It withers and dies. Possessing identity, we feel a sense of freedom from within. I have known personal frustrations and heartbreak as an Indian child in an alien world with apathetic discriminatory adults and peers, both in public and BIA schools. But also in these same spheres I have experienced thrills and heart glow in the challenging atmospheres of the people who cared. They seemed aware of the things we did not say.

There were many employees who were humanitarian personalities at Haskell Institute, a manual labor school I attended in the 1920s where the prime aim was to take the Indianness out of the Indian. They were not afraid to fail by trying new techniques. They did a tremendous job of selling me my future. My elders had the strength of their convictions about our heritage and Indian values. …