This is the longest and most substantive of the letters that Marcy wrote to her parents from Keams Canyon; it includes a bunch of details about the staff and Marcy’s work, and some about the kids.
One line in particular struck me: the casual mention of the Navajo students being punished for speaking Navajo. I knew that that was something that had happened in the American Indian boarding schools, but I had been under the misimpression that that kind of abuse in those schools had stopped a couple of decades earlier. I find Marcy’s offhand mention of it chilling; I’m not sure how to read that, but I’m hoping that she found it unjust. It’s not clear to me from this letter whether the rest of the assimilationist agenda was also in full force at this particular school.
Hello—here I do be in Tucson. Been an astoundingly busy week & have been falling asleep over dinner, almost, & just could not bear the thought of either typing or talking about it. So here goes:
For one, we’ve been visiting the schools on the reservation proper. See, Keams is a boarding school that comes under the jurisdiction of the Hopi Indian Agcy, but most of the students are Navajos (many Navajos live in Keams or on the Hopi Reservation, others on nearby parts of the Navajo Reservation.) It is
the Navajo kids, mostly, who live so far or in such inaccessible places that they have to be in boarding school. Most of the Hopi kids here are on welfare or come from broken homes or some such. These make up ca. 10% of the school populat, tho all the aides, etc. are either white (Bahana in Hopi, Bellagona in Navajo) or Hopi. Which makes it tougher on the Navajo kids, to have no one of their own tribe in authority. (’Cept the suptdt of the whole Hopi reservation, who is (mostly, I think) Navajo. And a finer person is yet to be found. This is a high gov’t job & he’s new & excellent at it. His wife, interestingly, is white.) Anyway, the rest of the Hopi kids go to day schools closer to where they live. (The boarding school (classroom part) also accomodates day schoolers, if they live at Keams. Children of govt employees, et cetera.) These “reservation schools” are also of course under the jurisdict. of the Hopi agency, so we were taken to visit all of them, to see the school & observe in the classrooms. Much of what we saw was frustrating & heartbreaking, but the rest was so bright and hopeful———: to start with, living at home makes all the difference in the world for the children. They aren’t subjected to rules & regimentation & rigidity & discipline for more than 8 hrs a day, and as a result are more alive & open & easier to work with, more responsive to outside stimulation than boarding school kids. They are given a hot lunch & 3 pts of milk each day, showers 2wice a week (no running water on the reservation), & the use of books, art materials (they are exceptionally fine artists) et cetera.
That was the first two pages of the letter, handwritten. The rest of the letter, another two pages, is typed:
at that point I was permanently interrupted. Am now back at Keams, frustrated and disappointed with the place as ever. Like the son of the head of Guidance (my boss) a x snotty bastard of a kid if I ever saw one, won the school spelling contest today, not because he's the best speller but because he's so damn cocky and fresh and confident all the Indian kids know they aren't going to be able to stand up to him, so they make mistakes as a matter of course. like another one of the asses in the guidance dept (an imbecilic old maid named Miss Sowerby) took down the bulletin board she'd xx given me charge of, and I'd given to the girls to put up what they liked, which they did, and she put up a current events board cut out of the National Observer, which so far no one has looked at. The board the girls had put up was, I'm proud to say, nearly in tatters from hard looking (it was about hairstyles) and the one I'd put up the week before (consistijg of the pamphlets I sent you on local sites of interest) had to be stapled back up about four times from avid examining. (falling-apart-ness is a mark of success, and one I'm always proud of.) five more weeks here, dammit. anyway, I was telling you about the day schools. Some of them are large enough to have a special art teacher and one has a monthly newspaper....which are things the Keams kids couldn't handle. It's hardly believable that they have cheerleaders and a pep club and a beadwork club here. Alice and I are xxxxxxxxx allowed to do very little; some things can be instigated by the rather inept new recreation director, but he's not permitted much leeway either. job consists of this: Monday, 8-5: spent in school, observing a different classroom each week. some of which is of inestimable value, as there is at least one teacherof the highest calibre possible, the rest is so much agony. 7:30-8:30 take older girls to gym, struggle with organizing activities with 80 girls from 4th to 8th grade. Tuesday, Wednesday, xxxxxx Thursday 11-5: inspection of details (jobs the girls have done in the morning), go to postoffice for mail, play with little girls (80 of them too), walk up to school with girls, go to clinic or do mending or foliding or putting away of clothes, laudnry, etc, help supervise baths or play with little girls some more, organize (hah) lines to go down to dinner. Tuesday, 6:30-7:30 long coffeee break with other aides (gossip, etc) while girls are at "religious instruction" 7:30-9 help with homework, older girls Wednesday, 6:20-7 art lesson for about 40-80 beginners, ist, 2nd, 3rd, 4th graders 7-8:30 find something to do as far as possible from the girls (older ones) who are being punished by being kept home from the big Kids' movie, for such reasons as messy locker, brushing teethe when not supposed to, talking Navajo, missing roll call Thursday, 6:30-8:30 gym and help with homework Friday, 8-5 walk girls to school, inspection, sort, fold, mend, etc, go for mail, xxxxxxxxx lunch hour, walk girs to school in afternoon, clinic or sorting, folding & mending, play with little girls till dinner. Then there's saturdays (anything over 40 hrs is strictly extracurricular and without pay) for teaching [me] to speak Navajo, doing bulletin boards, and anything else I can fit in.....the thing is, this is a 24-hour-a-day job, always being surrounded by dorm noises and pressures and tensions, and they quibble about giving us 2 hours leavewithoutpay, which happened the last time we went to Tucson and our ride left two hours early. We got told we were doing something rash and thoughtless and probably irresponsible and most certainly Evil, to request that we leave at 3 instead of 5 one Friday afternoon and not be paid for it. (actually, they didn't really mean it; just a faction fight between Mr. Long (our boss) & Mr. Russell [handwritten insertion: school principal] and the inept asses on one side, and Mrs. Schmidt (our ride) and a few other teachers and personnell on the other side, that of trying to make life tolterable for the kids. Mr. Long & Mr. Russell decided to make it as difficult as possible for everyone on our side, and that was one of the ways. Russell is an inept incomptetent impotent idiotic ass, and I'm not just name-calling, I'm describing. He's Mr. Long's boss, which is ridiculous, as xx the latter runs him hand and foot, a real tragedy. Long is supposed to be in charge of guidance in the dorm, but handles everything but. He knows no moreabout guidance or helping kids in the bind these xxxx poor children are caught in than I do about the 4-wheel drive on his jeep.....god help me if this letter should fall into the wrong hands. although that might be fun, as the suptd of the reservation would probably be able to do something about it if enough fuss were raised. otherwise, his hands are as xxxx tied as ours. enough of that. Needless to say, if I ran the zoo, things would be different. Tucson was lovely, refreshing, alive, invigorating, et cetera. Mrs. Henderer (who, as I suppose I've told you before, is one of the lovelist people I've ever had the good fortune to know) took us to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a fascinating place, with a zoo-type exhibit of desert animals, lots of material on water conservation (a mania with Arizonans), set-ups of animals in natural-type habitat (like a prairie-dog colony, bat caves, etc) (even saw some vampire bats, which was kind of scary even thourhg glass) (no, no, dear, they xxx live entirely on blood, but generally animal rather than human), desert birds xx in walk-in cages, exhibits of desert veggetation, like the boojum tree, which is most definitely the strangest x critter I've ever seen, and so forth. .....rest of the time, we sat around and absorbed the college-student-y atmospehre, listened to music all night, and had a glorius time.... Alice is leaving on Friday and a new gal from goddard will be here. ought to be interesting. Wish I was x a-goin' back too. but , be that as it may, and since I'm more frustrated than downright unhappy, there's still much to look forward to x. like Kachina dances and more jewelry to buy and the grand canyon. which we may get to. in the middle of a howling windstorm, no doubt. we are laden with citrus fruit, as Mrs. Schmidt was given a smalll ton of grapefruits, oragnes, and tangerines while we wre in Tucson and she was in Phoenix. She was actually able to pick most of it herslef. so we are, as the saying goes, rolling in oranges. (etcetra) tangerines are coming out of my ears, and I'm considering roast, stuffed grapefruit for our next dinner. (mmm. made curried beef tonight, which was mildly great.) re-reading: please remember that it's my typing and not my spelling that's atroucious. though I come to the conclusion xxx after trying to explain grammar to incredulous seventh-graders, x that anyone who can spell such an idiotioc language as English is something of a fool. [handwritten: the end. love, Marcia]
Postmarked Keams Canyon, Ariz, Feb 25, 1965. Written on front of envelope: “Rec’d this Sat. 2/27” and “Wrote to M 3/3/65.”