Essie's Story: The Life and Legacy of a Shoshone Teacher

By Esther Burnett Horne; Sally McBeth | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

The Wahpeton Years, I930s-I950s

Pursuing her career as a teacher of Native American children, Essie moved to North Dakota to be with her new husband and began teaching at the Wahpeton Indian School. She was the only Indian teacher at the school, and she strove to bring the positive side of boarding school life to her students. Again, the boarding school experience as revealed in this personal testimony confounds the long-held opinion that these schools were completely destructive institutions.

As a teacher, Essie became more of a parent figure in a constructed family of students who spent all year at the school, just as she had experienced the familial support of Haskell as a child in the school family when she was a student there.

The anti-Indian sentiment of earlier times was on the wane during this period of the life history. New attitudes are in evidence in Essie's ability to reinforce the values of the Indian nations represented by her students. Her teaching expands its multicultural emphasis and encourages students to remember and describe their "other" homes on the reservations. Indian cultural identity is valued. American activities are engaged in, Indian style.

Essie's life includes continuing education in diverse Native American studies, where her experience of and ultimate acceptance by mainstream population is a cameo of the larger society's evolving reevaluation of Native Americans individually, as well as of their cultures generally.

This continuing education for Essie is not entirely formal. Her ongoing education with and advocacy of Native American cultural values show up in her exposure to more Native Americans in visits to her husband's Hoopa relatives in California, attendance at Sun Dances, a visit to the Indian village at the 1933 World's Fair, trips to the Southwest, the development of Indian clubs at the school, and many other activities.

This section of the life history gives a view of the experience of the De

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