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Old 04-22-2004, 10:24 AM   #1
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Boarding school abuse didnít break Lakota aerospace engineer

Boarding school abuse didnít break Lakota aerospace engineer
The story of Seymour Young Dog

Posted: April 21, 2004 - 2:47pm EST
by: Brenda Norrell / Southwest Staff Reporter / Indian Country Today

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Seymour Young Dog (Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today)

DENVER - Beneath the red and orange fancy dance outfit, Seymour Young Dog displays the pencil point stabbed into his leg by his third-grade BIA boarding school teacher in Oglala, S.D.

"So many bad things happened to us, it is all starting to come out now, like what they did to the young girls," Young Dog said at the Denver March Pow Wow.

"This is why so many of our people turned to alcohol, trying to forget. There was no love, no one there to tuck us in at night. We couldnít even talk to our sister for nine months of the year, we could wave across the way to her, but we couldnít talk to her."

At the age of 8, Young Dog and his 10-year-old brother were so badly beaten that they ran away from Oglala Community School.

Their backsides were black and blue from beatings by the BIA dorm attendant. They slept outside that night and cold and hungry, reached home the second day, 10 miles north of Batesland. He remembered the dogs recognized them and came out barking.

"Mom started to cry, we showed her that our bodies were black and blue. She cooked for us. I remember her standing by the stove and she started singing in Indian."

The boys had to return to school, because their parents could have been jailed if they werenít in school.

Young Dog remembered the isolation room on the third floor of Oglala Community School, where the older boys were locked up.

"It was like a jail, they would slide crackers and water under the door. For us little guys, they beat the hell out of us. They put the bigger boys in isolation."

Young Dogís father, Amos Young Dog, went to the same school.

"My dad said in the 1920s and 1930s, children were put in there and no one ever saw them again."

Seymour Young Dog said the isolation room was used until the 1950s. Bedwetters were also segregated in one area of the dorm at night.

Raised in the traditional Lakota way as a child, Young Dogís family and way of life was ripped away when he was placed in boarding school in 1948.

"They cut our braids off, sometimes they burned our clothes. They washed us with lye soap, and we all wore government clothes and looked the same."

As little children, they stood at attention in the military-style barracks and were punished for speaking their language. They were beaten with sticks and straps if they made a mistake.

"We were beaten, sometimes we didnít even know the reason why. The matrons would just start hitting us. To this day, I still have fears of making a mistake."

When he was in third grade, he could not say the words "elementary" or "emergency." He tried very hard, but he couldnít make the sounds.

The white teacher screamed at him, "You dumb, dirty Indian!" With her pencil in hand, she made a violent stab toward his groin. He flinched quickly and the pencil stabbed him in his upper leg, where the point broke off. But, even in pain, crying was not allowed.

Those were lonely years. When any member of a Lakota family came to visit a child, it didnít matter whose mother, grandmother or relative it was.

"It was a great feeling, they would bring us fry bread or something from home."

Young Dog said the children were always hungry in boarding school. The little food they did get was mush or oatmeal with sour milk.

"They gave us only a little to eat, and even though it smelled bad and tasted bad, we ate it anyway."

Once they were fed contaminated meat and everyone in the school was sick.

"We were forever hungry, we never got enough to eat. Some of the crackers we ate had worms. We would open them up, brush them off and eat them."

This all happened when Young Dog was in elementary school, beginning in 1948. But, slowly things began to change in the 1950s.

After Young Dog and his brother were severely beaten and ran away from school, his mother, Dora Around Him, pressed charges against the matron who beat them. The BIA terminated her. However, she returned several years later to work in the girlsí dormitory at the same school.

"At that point, people started looking at the way we were being treated," Young Dog said. Still, no one but Lakotas cared.

Then, in 1958, a new marching band teacher came to the school. Before that, white teachers had told them they werenít smart enough to play the complex marching songs.

"He was a black man and he said, ĎWeíre going to play all the marching songs!í He was the first man to say we were smart, that we could learn."

There was also encouragement at home. His father worked for German and Russian farmers, who encouraged the Young Dogís seven boys and three girls to work the land for themselves.

"They would say, ĎThis is your land, you should be doing this for yourself.í Those men had a great influence," Young Dog said, looking back at his teen years.

The family worked hard and believed that the only way to get ahead is to get a good education. Young Dog went to Haskell for two years in the 1960s and later obtained his bachelorís of science degree in Electrical Engineering in California.

Young Dog worked in the fields of aerospace engineering and nuclear reactors, specializing in calibrations.

Still, Young Dog had other journeys to make; one was the road to sobriety. It began when his father was dying.

"My father said, ĎSon, I have a disease called cancer and I am going to die. You have a disease and it is called alcoholism.í"

After many years of working in the aerospace and nuclear industries, including teaching and working on components for space shuttles, Young Dog had a vision. It was in 1989 and he had been away from the Lakota way of life for a long time.

"The vision said, ĎGo back to your traditional ways, you have become too white.í

Young Dog returned to the Sun Dance and sweatlodge.

Now in sobriety, Young Dog and his wife live in Idaho and his life has come full circle; the sweatlodge of his childhood is once again bringing healing to him and others.

Young Dog wants the story of what happened to him and the other children in BIA boarding school to be known.

"We couldnít do anything about what was happening to us. We had no recourse. They beat us down, they made us cry.

"We couldnít fight back."

But he said they could not take everything away. "They did not take our brains or spirits away."
This article can be found at
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