The New Assimilated American by Nicole Montclair-Donaghy

My name is Kampeska Cinkila Win, Lakota for “Little Shell Woman.” My English name is Nicole Montclair-Donaghy. I’m an enrolled member of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I’ve long debated whether or not to share this piece. I believe that our stories should be shared, as they are a part of all of our histories as humans.

In 1924, my people were given the right to become American citizens after being on these lands for centuries. A few years prior to that, the US Department of the Interior’s “Ritual on Admission of Indians to Full American Citizenship” was performed when any Indian wanted to denounce their traditional ways and live the life of the farmer. This is an important time in history, as it was not so long ago—within my grandmother’s lifetime.

History books do not tell the correct story of Native American peoples, as they incorrectly portray our people as conquered and defeated. On the contrary, we have learned to become what the plan for us has always been: colonized, assimilated, and everything other than who we have always been.

My poem, “The New Assimilated American,” touches on the historical ritual that was used to relinquish our identity as a people. To become the farmer, where men harvest the earth, and where women become the foundation of the home. Ironically, we were already all of those things. It also speaks to the beginning of the boarding school era, in which many Native children were taken from their homes and forced to assimilate to western ways.

Although there are many people who consider immigrants the “new” Americans, we as Native people were new citizens in our own land, just sadly forgotten.

“The New Assimilated American”

Learn or die, that is the only way
Tell me who you are, but be careful what you say
No native tongue,
No savage cry
Your name will now be Christianized

The noble savage
Kill him, save the man
Learn our ways as fast as you can
Run into the shadow of grace
The Lord doth love you
Now let me replace,
Everything you’ve ever been
Your primitive lifestyle is a sin

Cut your hair and stand up straight
For your ritual is here, and all await
Denounce yourself,
You’re not yet like us
Everything you’ve ever known is now in our trust
Stand proud and walk this way
You will be a real person after today

Shoot your last arrow, and leave the Indian behind
Take the hand of the plow and then decide
It’s savage or man, be this thy choice
Make our words, but use your voice

A stranger in your own lands,
This is not your country
Forced to live a different life abruptly
Your ancestral lands, gone forever
Still all is well, this dream is better

You’re a citizen now, ward of the state
Children at boarding schools, learning a trade
Be a good citizen, stay in your place
Our religion will save your hellish fate
Be a good American, for your own sake
This is how we assimilate

James McLaughlin performs a citizenship ritual for Native Americans of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota, on December 18, 1917. The ceremony included the shooting of last arrows and the symbol of a plow to farm. (State Historical Society of North Dakota 1952-00372 Frank Fiske Photo)

James McLaughlin performs a citizenship ritual for Native Americans of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Fort Yates, North Dakota, on December 18, 1917. The ceremony included the shooting of last arrows and the symbol of a plow to farm. (State Historical Society of North Dakota 1952-00372 Frank Fiske Photo)

Actual Ritual on Admission of Indians to Full American Citizenship (for men)

(Read Name.)

_________________ (white name). What was your Indian name? (Gives name.)

_________________ (Indian name). I hand you a bow and an arrow. Take this bow and shoot the arrow. (He shoots.)

_________________ (Indian name). You have shot your last arrow. That means that you are no longer to live the life of an Indian. You are from this day forward to live the life of the white man. But you may keep that arrow, it will be to you a symbol of your noble race and of the pride you feel that you come from the first of all Americans.

_________________ (white name). Take in your hand this plow. (He takes the handles of the plow.) This act means that you have chosen to live the life of the white man—and the white man lives by work. From the earth we all must get our living and the earth will not yield unless man pours upon it the sweat of his brow. Only by work do we gain a right to the land on to the enjoyment of life.

_________________ (white name). I give you a purse. This purse will always say to you that the money you gain from your labor must be wisely kept. The wise man saves his money so that when the sun does not smile and the grass does not grow, he will not starve.

I give into your hands the flag of your county. This is the only flag you have ever had or ever will have. It is the flag of freedom; the flag of free men, the flag of a hundred million free men and women of whom you are now one. That flag has a request to make of you, _________________ (white name), that you take it into your hands and repeat these words:

“For as much as the President has said that I am worthy to be a citizen of the United States, I now promise to this flag that I will give my hands, my head, and my heart to the doing of all that will make me a true American citizen.”

And now beneath this flag I place upon your breast the emblem of your citizenship. Wear this badge of honor always; and may the eagle that is on it never see you do aught of which the flag will not be proud.

(The audience rises and shouts: “_________________(white name) is an American citizen.”)

Actual Ritual on Admission of Indians to Full American Citizenship (for women)

_________________ (white name). Take in your hand this work bag and purse. (She takes the work bag and purse.)

This means that you have chosen the life of the white woman—and the white woman loves her home. The family and the home are the foundation of our civilization. Upon the character and industry of the mother and homemaker largely depends the future of our Nation. The purse will always say to you that the money you gain from your labor must be wisely kept. The wise woman saves her money, so that when the sun does not smile and the grass does not grow, she and her children will not starve.

I give into your hands the flag of your country. This is the only flag you have ever had or ever will have. It is the flag of freedom, the flag of free men, a hundred million free men and women of whom you are now one. That flag has a request to make of you, _________________ (white name), that you take it into your hands and repeat these words:

“For as much as the President has said that I am worthy to be a citizen of the United States, I now promise to this flag that I will give my hands, my head, and my heart to the doing of all that will make me a true American citizen.”

And now beneath this flag I place upon your breast the emblem of your citizenship. Wear this badge of honor always, and may the eagle that is on it never see you do aught of which the flag will not be proud.

(The audience rises and shouts: “_________________(white name) is an American citizen.”)

nicole1 Nicole Montclair-Donaghy (Kampeska Cinkila Win’) is a Lakota from the Standing Rock Reservation. She began organizing during her college career which focused on advocating for Tribal colleges and students. Nicole leads oil and gas campaigns and is a lobbyist for Dakota Resource Council in Bismarck, ND.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s