This paper is an attempt to discuss the biography of Mary Englund’s An IndianRemembers based on her childhood experiences in a Christian European convent. Her story starts from the day she is taken away from her family to becivilized in a distant residential school. Englund’s experience in the schoolcould be described as European way of civilizing the young native people thatincludes compulsory assimilation, segregation, control and racism. The conceptof civilization is perceived to be for the best interest of the Indiancommunity, or at least this is what it seems to appear like.
Thus, this paperwill tackle the issues of methods used to civilize the Natives and its effectson Englund’s personality and mentality as well as the real purpose behindcivilization. Is it really for the best interest of the Indian people or is it aform of exploitation of the Natives to benefit the European colonialists?Assimilation is one form used to civilize the native children. This seems to putEnglund to a lot of curiosity eventually to confusions. On her first day inMission, Englund learns about the assimilation policy implemented by the conventwhich draws out her curiosity about its purpose. In her experience, she learnsthat boys and girls live in separate buildings and wonders why. She appearscurious and thus questions a lot but she gets no decent answer to satisfy hercuriosity.Order now
Englund also observes girls being divided in groups to certain tablesduring meals and girls are assigned to different jobs, some goes to thedormitory while others to kitchen or classrooms. Again, she does not seem tounderstand the purpose of these procedures. This explains her ignorance aboutthe system of a Christian convent. Anyhow, she seems to let go of her curiosityand simply accept it as a form of instruction she ought to follow with noquestion asked.
With all these curiosities, she has possibly developed a senseof confusion on why things are done in these manners. Another form used by theschool is by segregation. Through this, Englund seems to suffer from isolation. Englund recalls when a priest takes her from her family (430). While she isexpected to feel sad leaving her mother, she seems to feel nothing butexcitement.
She says that “We were left alone so many times we never had thetendency to say, ?Well, I’m sorry I’m going to go away and leave mymother’ because we were alone most of the time. ” (431) Due to her mother’srecurrent absence, it seems like Englund does not have the chance to bond withher which explains her coldness towards her mother. Though one would be inducedto concur to this, Englund does not totally blame her mother as she recognizesthe sacrifice she has to make to feed them. When she arrives in the Mission, sheis then separated from her brother. Englund makes a few friends in the conventbut as she learns that she could not trust anyone, she possibly voluntarilydistant herself from others. In one instance, they are told not to discuss theirschool activities with their parents but there is one girl who does it and henceshe gets reprimanded for that.
Due to this incident Englund becomes cautious notto be seen doing anything inappropriate or else she is bound to be scolded bythe nuns. As she grows older, she learns to bottle up her feelings knowing thattelling a soul could possibly cause her a punishment. Being away from the peopleshe cares about and finding no one to trust among her classmates, Englund’snarration suggests that she suffers from isolation. Though she may think thatshe could trust her mother, she dare not tell her anything fearing that someonewould tell the nuns. It seems like Englund has no choice but to keep herfeelings and opinions to herself causing her loneliness.
Moreover, the nuns havefull control over the native children by means of strict surveillance andpunishments. This seems to be the cause of the development of Englund’srebellious nature. No matter where they are, in or out of school, the nuns havetheir eyes on them. In the school, nuns are always at the look out, to ensurethat children are doing their dormitory routines perfectly. Even during theirdomestic activities like cleaning, mending socks and sewing, the nuns instilperfection in their works. Being new and ignorant, Englund often makes mistakes.
She tends to become rebellious whenever her pride and beliefs are offended. Onceshe rebels when she unknowingly touches one Sister and gets slapped for it. Withall pride she says, “Well, she slapped me! Oh I wasn’t going to beslapped. ” (435) There is another time when she throws her temper after shegets hit by a scissor.
This clearly shows that unnecessary punishments leadEnglund to her rebellious nature. Everything has to meet perfection or else theyeither have to redo it or get punished. Besides being always at the look out,the nuns also use the bells extensively. Englund recollects as one girl oncetold her that “You don’t talk before the bell rings and you don’t talkafter the bell rings either. “(434) Basically, the sound of the bell instructsthem when they can and cannot talk which seems like the watchful nuns are stillnot enough for the job.
Englund also states other reasons that make herrebellious. One is the use of prayers as a form of punishment (Englund 439) andthe other is when she is said to be unqualified to become a nun for havingunmarried parents and no money (441). It seems like this contradicts theteachings of Christianity. In Christian values, money is not an important factorin life but still the convent uses it to discourage Englund from pursuing herdream.
Throughout her life in the Mission, the nuns and priests throw innumerous racist comments about Indians and mistreat them in various ways. Because of this, Englund seems to believe that Indians are the inferior race. Inher first trip to the Mission, Englund describes Father Chirouse as “awfullynice” for talking to her (431). After their conversation, the priest movesfurther to another seat.
This appears like the priest is ashamed to be seensitting with the Natives. Also, take the occasion when a nun calls native homesas camps for instance. Englund admits that she is hurt and is still whenever shethinks back (432). This gives an impression that the European nuns see theNatives as a lower class people who are unsuitable to live in a home liketheirs.
In another occasion when the native children are practising a speech inEnglish, Sister “V” comments, “Now if you weren’t an Indian girl youcould do that perfectly well, better; a white girl she would go over that verywell, nicely. ” (438) It seems like the amount of effort they put in wouldnever matter because they are Indians. In addition, Englund seems bitter whenthey are served with grounded food. She mentions that the nuns believe thatIndians eat rotten fish so they give less attention to the food they serve them(438).
Moreover, Englund recalls how the nuns constantly remind them of theirIndian roots and that they are uncivilized and savages (438). Despite of howmuch the Indians try to adapt to the European way of living, it appears likethey would never fit in. Furthermore, Englund is deprived of her aspiration tobe a nun because she has no money and her parents are unmarried (441). Thiscould possibly be an excuse to indirectly tell her that she is unworthy to be anun because she is an Indian. With all of these racist comments and harshtreatments, she finds it degrading to her and her fellow Indians (438).
At thesame time, these mistreatments seem to serve as an awakening call that helps herrealize what she wants her life to be. This is demonstrated when she makes asensible decision to choose health over money. In here, she seems to finallyrealize that she is ready to take control of her life. Are all these ways ofcivilizing for the best interest of the Indian people? Englund says that allparents thought that school means goodness for the entire Indian community.
Itis a wonder how her mother could believe this without knowing what is going onin the school. Perhaps, the priests convince her mother to believe thatschooling is beneficial not only to Englund but the whole Indian community too. If this is indeed the real motive, this contradicts the outcome of Englund’slife after school. First she is not allowed to get a higher education, and thenshe is dismissed from school because of her age. Assumingly, this is when theconvent’s control has to end. Instead the convent recommends Englund to workfor an old lady as a caretaker.
Because of this, the real motive of the Europeanis questionable. It is likely to believe that all these promotion of goodnessabout civilization is a mere scheme to exploit the Natives as the European’sslaves. The means of civilizing the Natives have indeed impacts on Englund’spersonality and mentality. Though she suffers from confusion and isolation andbecomes rebellious, Englund gains enlightenment that releases her from controland racism. For one reason, Englund ought to thank the Europeans for civilizingher as they give her the chance to have a life better than the one she couldhave if she stays in her village. However, looking at the other side of it, thepurpose of civilizing the Natives is never been for the best interest of theirwell-being but for the advantage of the Europeans.
In conclusion, Englund’sexperience in the Mission reflects the exploitation of native children by theEuropean colonialists. BibliographyEnglund, Mary. “An Indian Remembers”. Academic Reading: Reading andWriting Across the Disciplines. Peterborough: Broadview, 1995. 426-442