|Writing Can Heal
Feb 1, 2007
By Tim Giago (Nanwica Kciji) 1/29/2007
Why do some children survive abuse by growing stronger while others
whither and die as the result of alcoholism, drugs, suicide or even
as murderers at the hands of an executioner?
And why do many of those abused as children become abusers themselves
in adulthood? These are questions I was asked last week by a reporter
from the Albuquerque Journal and I dont think I answered them to the
best of my ability.
The writer was doing an interview for my new book Children Left Behind,
a book that is a partial biography of the horrors I observed while growing
up at the Holy Rosary Indian Mission on the Pine Ridge Reservation in
The press release by the publisher the reporter read goes, Tim Giago
weaves a memoir, commentary, reflection and poetry together to boldly
illustrate hi often-horrific experiences as a child at a Catholic Indian
Mission boarding school where Indian children were forcefully molded
to fit into mainstream America. This unholy experiment contributed to
many of todays modern problems in an entire generation of Native Americans.
When she asked me how it was that I survived the experience and came
out stronger my reply was that I attributed to my parents. I believe
this was not the complete answer. Make no mistake that I loved my parents,
but after giving it much thought, I do not believe they were the only
reasonI made some success of my life after the boarding school experience.
I think it was because I loved to write. When I was seventeen and onmy
way by ship to Korea in 1952, I started to write poems about my school
days, the good, the bad, and the very ugly. I continued to write these
poems for nearly 19 years and one day I mailed them to a Cahuilla Indian
man named Rupert Costo, the publisher of the Indian Historian Press
in San Francisco.
Costa, a victim of the boarding school system himself, called me a
few weeks later and said, Tim, these poems must be published. And
his publishing house named the books of poetry, The Aboriginal Sin.
It was published in 1978. Many of these poems are included in my new
and expanded book on the Indian mission boarding schools, Children
Left Behind. From the day the book of poetry was published the Catholic
Church hierarchy and the Jesuit priests at the mission school went into
denial. They denied that I ever went to school at the mission and they
attempted to erase any evidence of it. I had to get affidavits from
my former classmates to prove I attended school there. It seems that
my small book of poetry was hurting the schools ability to solicit
By writing about my life, and the lives of my friends at the mission
school, it was a cathartic experience for me. By putting my thoughts
down on paper I was able to see my lifes experiences for what they
were, to analyze them, and to put them behind me. Many Indian people
who read my book, then and now, write to me and say how much this has
helped them to understand their own fears and anxieties. You must understand
that Americas Cultural Genocide against the Indian people encompassed
more than three generations beginning in the mid-1880s and lasting until
When I read the reviews of the movie Freedom Writers in the New York
Times I thought about my own life and how writing proved to be the catharsis
that lifted me out of my pain and sorrow. When I was in the sixth grade
I was writing down everything that was important to me. One day I handed
ina composition assignment to my teacher, a Catholic perfect who would
later become a Jesuit priest, and he read it, slammed it down on my
desk, and accused me of plagiarism, I had no idea of what he was talking
about. He said, As a writer you will never amount to a hill of beans.
His critical comments made me work all the harder to improve my writing
Many years later I was given the Distinguished Achievement Award in
Journalism by the University of Missouri School of Journalism. When
I was asked at the banquet that night, If you could name anyone in
the world, who would you like to have sitting at your side tonight?
I replied, A Father Fagan from the Holy Rosary Indian Mission boarding
school who told me that as a writer, I would never amount to a hill
Anna Quindlen, writing a review on Freedom Writers in her weekly
column for Newsweek quoted novelist Don DeLillo when he wrote, Writing
is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we
see in making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be
outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to
survive as individuals.
I say amen to that. Writing was my salvation and it was writing that
took me all of the way from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to Harvard
Yard. It was writing that helped me to see past the horrors of rape,
psychological and physical abuse, and the sactimonious religious indoctrination
of the Catholic Church and enabled me to write a book that would remind
all Americans that there is a portion of their history that has been
swept under the rug and buried because of the shame it not only brought
to the Church but to the Nation.
Too many Indians have been sacrificial victims of the boarding schools
for me to ever let America forget. And I encourage all teachers worth
their salt to take their students to see Freedom Writers. It could
change their lives.
) 2007 Native American Journalists Foundations, Inc.
(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giagos weekly
column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or
Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota
Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first
president of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman
Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1990 1991. Clear Light Books of
Santa Fe, NM (firstname.lastname@example.org)
published his latest book, Children Left Behind)