Vocabulary Words
Marjorie Carlson Davis

Condemnation, a word on my public school vocabulary list two years after the boarding school closed. But even before I knew the word, I sensed the meaning in all its variations. I felt it every day. Condemnation of what and who we were.

I learned some other words too. Indoctrinating us in the ways of white Christians. Expunging our Indian-ness. Annihilating our language and customs. I learned these by emotion before I heard or spelled them, before I recited their meanings.

During the day I acted like a good girl, sitting upright in the hard, wooden desk chairs, refraining from scratching under that itchy, woolen uniform. I recited Christian prayers. I sang their hymns. During the day, I ate with knife and fork, not my fingers. I dabbed my lips with the napkin, folded hands in my lap when done. Civilized.

The things they couldn’t eradicate were our dreams. At night I dreamed I was long haired and dressed in finery--beaded moccasins, a quilled headband, and my best jingle dress. I heard the drum beats, the voices of my family, and I stepped high letting the metal cones tinkle like bells. In dreams, my own words returned to me. I was still Ojibwe, Anishnabe, and I could raise my arms and lift my feet to dance, niimi'idiwin.

First published: November, 2009
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