Lillian’s Family: Tried to be “Less Indian”

Lillian remembers her father telling her when she was still a young child, that it was better to be “less Indian.”

My parents were both brought up at a time when Indian children were forced to go to Indian boarding schools, where the children were punished if they dared to speak in their native languages.

That’s one way that they tried to strip our culture from us so that we would have no memory and no compass. And so my father grew to think that we would be better off if we tried to be less Indian. He felt that being less Indian could help his children have more comfortable lives.

It was a really terrible time. Indian children were forced to leave their homes and their families and were treated as if they were in the military. My mother and father both went to the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. Remarkably, Chemawa is still open to this day. Fortunately, the school no longer forces children from their homes, and today, with the advantage of more insight and understanding, they’re now trying to help the people they serve regain their sense of identity. People attending the school today no longer want to be less Indian.

I remember a story my father told about when he was there as a small boy. He was forced, along with all the other boys, to wear a uniform and to march around with wooden guns. One time, he forgot to salute the Sargent while marching, and so as punishment, he had to salute every tree in the area. Little did the Sargeant know that it was actually a privilege to my father to be able to salute the trees as compared with having to salute the Sargeant.

So, while he encouraged his children to be less Indian, he himself was, in fact, true Indian at the core.

—Lillian Pitt

See pictures from Lillian Pitt’s family album …