logo Click BACK to return to basecamp
Lost Teachers
Search Info
White beveled edge

Meet Stephanie

Stephanie Archive



Watch it or you'll get your mouth washed out with soap!!


The Cherokee flag waving above the sacred mounds
It's the first day of school and you take your seat at the hard, wooden bench. Words are written on the blackboard, but to you they look like a bunch of talking leaves. The teacher is speaking at the front of the room, but her words sound like thunder and you don't understand them. But you have to pay attention -- Father says knowing English will help you live in the white man's world.

The first time you heard English was the morning the people from the white man's boarding school rode up to your Indian reservation in their horse-drawn carriage. You were out in the fields picking corn with your brothers and sisters when Father called you over. You knew your life was changing forever when you saw a bundle of your things thrown into the back seat of the carriage.

Suddenly the teacher looks at you, points to one of the talking leaves on the blackboard and thunders. She is asking you something, but you don't know what. So you answer the only way you know how -- in Cherokee. The classroom grows deadly silent as the teacher's face turns red with anger. You have broken the school's golden rule -- all answers in English. The teacher grabs you by the elbow and pulls you to the front of the room.

She unwraps a bar of soap and thunders at you. Then she pinches your nose -- hard. When you open your mouth to breathe, she shoves the soap into your mouth and twists it about, getting it all over your tongue and scrubbing your teeth. As your mouth fills with foam, you tell yourself never to speak Cherokee in class again.

The Cherokee language
Pretty scary, huh? Thousands of young American Indians were taken off their reservations and brought to boarding schools to learn English and the ways of the white man. Many were beaten, had their hair pulled, and tasted those awful bars of soap. Some tried to run away. One student walked 65 miles across the Smokey Mountains!

By the time they came back to their reservations years later, most students had forgotten their sacred Indian customs and could barely speak their native language. This went on for years and years until the 1930s when people began to wonder if taking children your age from their families was a good idea.

It took a long time but the people finally decided it wasn't a good idea, and today American Indians learn about their own culture in school. Signs of Indian life are everywhere, in pottery and wood carving classes and in artwork on the walls. The students even study Cherokee, their own language!


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - There's no place like home!