Indian School Days
Published by: University of Oklahoma Press
Imprint: University of Oklahoma Press
256 Pages | 6 x 9 | 1 map
This book is the humorous, bitter-sweet autobiography of a Canadian Ojibwa who was taken from his family at age ten and placed in Jesuit boarding school in northern Ontario. It was 1939 when the feared Indian agent visited Basil Johnston’s family and removed him and his four-year-old sister to St. Peter Claver’s school, run by the priests in a community known as Spanish, 75 miles from Sudbury.
“Spanish! It was a word synonymous with residential school, penitentiary, reformatory, exile, dungeon, whippings, kicks, slaps, all rolled into one,” Johnston recalls. But despite the aching loneliness, the deprivation, the culture shock and the numbing routine, his story is engaging and compassionate. Johnston creates marvelous portraits of the young Indian boys who struggled to adapt to strange ways and unthinking, unfeeling discipline. Even the Jesuit teachers, whose flashes of humor occasionally broke through their stern demeanor, are portrayed with an understanding born of hindsight.
“I hope that anyone who wonders about what it’s like to be an Indian, or anyone who simply wants to read and become lost in a wonderful book, dives into this lively, touching, and revelatory remembrance. No one who opens this book will close it in disappointment. It is a work to further the understanding and enrich the heart.”—Louise Erdrich, author of Love Medicine
“The author’s style is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Johnston is a superb writer. His use of the language is excellent, but beyond this, he has a powerful story that brings forth the full range of human emotions. In event after event he weaves together a tale that holds within it much of the drama of the history of Indian-white relations.”—Margaret Connell Szasz, author of Education and the American Indian: The Road to self-Determination since 1928
“Johnston has created a story that radiates compassion, humor, and hope…. [His] story is essentially about the boys’ refusal to be victimized. Unwittingly they learned the ways of psychic survival in adverse circumstances. In being rebellious, defiant, and insubordinate, they retained a sense of their own Indian identity and self-worth that made survival possible.”—American Indian Quarterly
“This bittersweet memoir, one of the few to be written by a student at a residential school for Indians, should be read by anyone interested in the education of Native American youths.”—Journal of the West
“This is an excellent look at the way assimilationist education really worked. Beautifully written, it manages to capture the subculture of student life that existed below the surface of institutional affairs; the world of the school boys—their wants, desires, and fears that school authorities never knew about or understood—is effectively recreated.”—Robert Trennert, author of The Phoenix Indian School: Forced Assimilation in Arizona, 1891-1935