Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bell Tower

Bell Tower

Toll No More

They always had that quality
Of  ghost stories well told
And I always wanted to believe
They belonged to some distant past.

Indian children frozen in a blizzard
Running not from home
But back to their culture
Away from schools where they were held.

My parents would whisper
Words of injustice
Prisoner of war camps
For those that never fought the wars.

One by one they were closed
Reservation schools run by religious zealots
Young stripped of family and language
Stories of abuse lingered long after.

I stood decades later
Looking up at the empty shell
San Fidel Indian School closed
Its church in decay.

The people it sought to assimilate
Recovering their past
And culture
Burying the memories.

J. Binford-Bell
August 2011

The history of Indian Boarding Schools is not all consigned to history. In 1902 there were 100 boarding schools as part of the government assimilation policy for American Indian tribes. Between then and 1973 the population of these schools grew to 60,000 First Americans. A defense of the practice of boarding schools could be made because of the vast distances in areas like the Zuni, Hopi and Navajo reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Was the boarding school policy better or worse than the forced busing in the south during the civil rights era?

A review begun by President Kennedy of the policy of taking children from their families caused the gradual closure of most of those schools beginning in 1973. These closures were largely due to records of abuse of the policy established by Congress. The schools were often subcontracted out to Catholic, Mormon or Baptists and review was not rigid. Those boarding schools that remain open are more dedicated to the preservation of the Indian cultures and languages and faith rather than its annihilation. And some of the students of these schools in the past speak fondly of their experiences there. Others don't. What I heard growing up in the southwest were the horror tales.

The Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico is one of the remaining schools with a great reputation.


Check out Poetry Potluck Week 47: History and Stories


  1. This is a scar on our history.

  2. I wonder if it is more a scar on an age. We did not stand alone with such treatment of indigenous minorities. Canada, New Zealand, and Australia also had similar practices.

    I think it is wonderful that we recognized the errors of the past and had the moral courage to change.

  3. remarkable.
    love the historic notes on the school.
    big smiles!

  4. "This", is one of the main reasons it is such a joy to be a part of Jingles community. Finding writing that speaks eloquently and beautifully, and speaks of things that are important to remember. Powerful, very powerful, thanks.

  5. Growing up in Arizona, I saw some of this first hand. It was a two edged sword, because many of the kids were greatful for the chance to get an education. I managed aa restaurant across the street from the Phoenix Indian High School when I was in my early twenties. My assistant manaager was a graduate of the school. He was greatful for the education, yet held tightly to his heritage.

  6. I love your art- you use the colours that speak to my heart. Here in Canada we have similar stories of loss of culture, and re-awakenings of culture among our aboriginal population. Our schools are working hard to adapt to help the kids graduate, but last year, they eliminated the 3 permanent full-time Native Education Teachers in our high schools and now will rely on "First Nations workers" who are not trained the same way. We are stunned, and waiting for the inevitable backlash.

    I'm here from the potluck, my offering is at


I appreciate all kind comments on my art and poetry.