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Understanding the Phoenix Indian School

If you're like most people, and have never studied the Indian Wars in Arizona, well, I can't blame you. I got a copy of the 1915 Arizona the Youngest State by James McClintock recently, and it goes into some very grisly details. It will be a while before I will be able to look at that book again. If you've read it, you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, if you don't know about what happened, it's easy to fall into the common mistake of stereotyping the Indian people. And as I began my journey to understand the Phoenix Indian School, I started finding out things that surprised me, and go against the simplistic and racist stereotypes that many people cling to. Let's begin with something that I hear all of the time - Indians being forced to learn English.

Step back in time. The Pima people knew a lot of languages, in addition to their own. For hundreds of years they also spoke Spanish, and then they learned English. Their land, which extended from where modern Mexico is today up to the Gila River, had been invaded by a lot of people. Some of them even spoke French. I'm sure the Pima people heard a bit of Latin, and German. All I can think of is that it must have been frustrating to the Pima people that so few people bothered to learn the Pima language. But the Pimas traded with them, and needed to communicate.

So, the stereotype of the Indian living in isolation just doesn't apply to the Pimas. They have been putting up with newcomers who spoke different languages, for centuries. The Indian School, which began in 1891 strictly for the Pimas, wasn't forcing a new language on them. They had been living peacefully alongside of a lot of people who had spoken foreign languages, and it was to their benefit, and the benefit of their children.

Thank you for walking with me on this journey.

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