Letters from Marcy #4: 20 February 1965

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.


Saturday 2/20/65

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

Keams Canyon is inside the Hopi Reservation, which is inside the Navajo Reservation
Keams Canyon

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:

     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.

     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

     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

     6:30-8:30 gym and help with homework

     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.”

Facebook post for this letter.

One Response to “Letters from Marcy #4: 20 February 1965”

  1. Willa

    Actually, the punishment of students for speaking Native languages went on quite a bit longer. A friend of my sister’s, who I think is around your age, told me he and his friends were beaten for speaking Navajo at school.


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