The teacher rummages around in his top hat, eyes lidded in suspense. Finally, he whips out a white rabbit and chortles.
Nobody laughs. Thirty stony faces glare back at him. Sullen defiance is all we can manage, since they herded us within these walls like bison. They hammered up internment camps in red, white and blue, and called them schools. Filled them with mouthless faces stripped of all colour, and called us pupils. Off came our tribal beads, our sacred feathers, our buckskin dresses, our soft-soled moccasins that still smelled of home. We wept as cruel scissors snipped away, pricking our scalps, our flowing locks littering the ground like dead crows. They imprisoned us in tight grey tunics and pale shirts, choking collars chafing our necks raw, buttoned cuffs shackling us. The hard leather boots pinched our toes. No laughter here, free and wild like the endless rolling plains. Just the mournful toll of the lunch bell, the tramp of hundreds of feet, the scratch of pen on paper.
And the snap of the cane. Over tiny knuckles, over quaking palms, over trembling buttocks, for not speaking the language. White Bull. Little Wolf. Running Bear. Pretty Eagle. All marched in for their punishment, heads high and proud warriors, and came back shrunken and flinching at shadows. English, the white-skins scolded us, speak English now. None of you savages here. We knew what it was like to hurt — but not the word for help.
They beat us. Starved us. Scorned us. Stole us from ourselves. And yet … they call us savages?
© 2021 | Tom Burton