I was still a young boy when we moved out of our tipi here on the Warm Springs Reservation that was situated along the Shitike Creek. We moved into a small house that my mother bought for $100. This house was relocated to our small piece of property we had here on the rez.
It was very strange to open my eyes first thing in the morning to a box house, in comparison to a tipi. There were no more fires to wake up to, and the sound of the river was no more. It seemed that our old way of life was gone forever.
My older brother started Kindergarten and had to walk 1 mile to his classes every day. I felt sad when he would leave for school because I had to stay home all day. I often wished I was old enough to go to school, with him.
One day, my brother felt sorry for me and asked if I would like to go to with him to his Kindergarten class. I said yes, of course, and was one happy little guy. So he took my hand and off we went, on the 1 mile hike to school.
When we arrived at his class, I was seated beside my brother, sharing his milk and graham crackers. It wasn't long, maybe minutes, before I fell in love with school.
But all was short-lived. The teacher escorted me to the door and told me to go home.
So I found myself standing outside, alone. I then decided to find my way back to our house even though I had never been at this school before. I remembered crossing a river. So I proceeded to walk away, enjoying my new adventure to find my house and my mom.
As I started walking along, on the outside of the school property, I noticed a lot of older boys standing at attention on campus. They were being reprimanded by a mean sounding white man who was yelling at them for no apparent reason. I thought he must have captured those boys and they were his prisoners. I had no idea that they were attending a government boarding school, or even what a boarding school was at that time.
At this point, I was getting concerned by all of this, at the vulnerable young age of 4. All I knew is that I did not want to be captured and forced to stand there with them. I walked slowly in their direction, thinking that if I walked slow and quiet, they might not notice me. I had no choice but to go that route because I knew my home was somewhere in that direction.
All of a sudden, that mean old man saw me. He began to holler at me, saying 'Hey!!!'. He scared me and I stopped in my tracks, not knowing what to do next. He said very loudly.,.. 'Come here!!!'. I then took a step backwards. With each one of his commands, I retreated step by step, because I refused to go with him. Once again he yelled at me.... 'I said COME HERE!', and it was more than clear to me that he was extremely angry.
So, I started to run across a field towards a steep hill that goes to the river. That mean old guy then ordered all the boys to get me and bring me to him. I ran as fast as I could, for all I was worth. To me at that age, I was running for my life.
When I neared the crest of the hill, I looked back and saw about 50 boys coming after me. Some of them were big and could run fast so I had to think quickly. I came upon a trail that led to the bottom of the hill and I let the boys see me turn left on it so that they would think I was on the trail heading to the river. When I disappeared from their sight, I immediately turned right to get off the trail.
I then crawled into some sage brush and worked my way to the top of the hill. I laid silent and still. Several of these boys ran right past me and continued down the hill while others ran over the hill thinking they would cut me off at the bottom near the river.
As I laid there under the sagebrush, quiet as a mouse, I heard voices all over the place, coming from below the hill. They were again at the bottom of the hill while I was at the top. It sure was a relief to me.
I then peeked over the hill and didn't see anyone so off I went, along a path where no one could detect me. I knew I had to get to the road that crosses the river in order to get home.
When I finally made my way closer to the bridge, I saw police cars patrolling the area. I realized that I had a new problem. I had to cross the bridge without being seen. Police cars were everywhere.
I finally made it to the lower side of the bridge but had to make my way across it by scaling the outside of the structure, hidden from view. Whenever I heard a car coming, I would freeze and hold still, hoping that anyone going by would be looking up river.
I finally made it across the 100 ft. bridge. I ducked into the cattails along a small creek that I was familiar with. I then felt safe enough and proceeded to sneak home.
When I arrived, my mother was gone. I was the only one home. But I was happy. After that day, I decided I didn't like school anymore.
When my mom got home and came inside the house, she was stunned to see me sitting there. She asked me where I was so I told her that people were chasing me and I had to hide a lot so I could make it home from school where my brother had taken me. She gave me a hug and said that everyone was out searching for me along the river.
Shortly thereafter, she got in touch with the police department and told them I was home and safe, and to call off the search. When my older brother came home, he was amazed that I out foxed everyone that day.
At 4 years old, I seemed to have had all of my faculties in order, to escape if need be.
Little did I know that I would be going to government boarding school the next year and would be forced to stand at attention with a lot of other boys. No more moccasins, no more long hair, no family, no more of our native language. Whenever I, or any other child slipped by saying an Indian word, the teachers would wash our mouths out with soap. If the mean old man was nearby and heard me say an Indian word, he would slap me so hard, I would usually fall to the ground. I knew then that I, too, was one of his prisoners.
Since those days, I've had a block against education. But I do not have a block against learning. I also do not have a block against loving all people from all walks of life. Love and kindness is where it's at.
The government boarding school days may have taken away our freedom for a time, and tried their best to brainwash us, but they could never take away our spirit. They are now gone and we are still here.
For many of us, these difficult experiences can be used as a tool over a lifetime. I have used my sadnesses to learn the act of forgiveness. And when you've learned these lessons, your spirit finds peace and life is good.