Score: 95+/100 (9.5+ out of 10)
My Place Among Them is a culturally and historically significant book by J. Stanion. It chronicles the experiences of Native Americans who were displaced from their lands and forcefully assimilated during the 19th century. These sad events, similar to the slavery of Blacks or the internment of Japanese-Americans, still haunt us and linger like a stain on our conscience and our history as a nation.
The most important thing that we took away from this book is that these events, these histories, these cultures, and these languages are not to be erased or forgotten. They are to preserved and remembered for future generations so that they will know what came before them.
This book specifically follows the events of the infamous Wounded Knee Massacre on December 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. Following decades of tension between the Americans expanding westward and the Lakota (and other) Indians, the US 7th Cavalry took the accidental discharge of a weapon as an attack and proceeded to attack the Lakota camp at Wounded Knee Creek, a battle that turned into a massacre as the American soldiers began killing indiscriminately after the battle had turned. As many as 300 Lakota men, women, and children were killed as a result.
This book covers the aftermath of this tragic and horrific event as the American soldiers come across a strong, tall Indian boy named “John Iron Horse.”
John is, effectively, the central character of this narrative as we see him grow from a fish out of water in a Native American assimilation school to becoming a citizen respected not only by his own people (as a champion and advocate) but by the White Men. We also see John grow as a human being, learning multiple languages, competing in sports, getting an education, getting employment, and meeting his eventual wife, Stella.
The relationship between John and Stella is one of the most beautiful and heartwarming love stories—real or fiction—that we've ever read! It goes to show that you never know where life will take you, and what joys may await you even after tragedy and misfortune. Stella is presented as such a cute, beautiful, loving, and supportive person—exactly the type of partner that John needs to carry him out of the darkness of the loss of his tribe, his father, and his mentor.
The book also follows Carter Heath, a white American teacher, from whose journals we get a lot of the background information. Carter, similar to Nick in Great Gatsby, provides a lot of context and observations. Carter is an example that there is goodness, grace, and mercy, even among oppressors, adversaries, and enemies. Carter is, technically, a member of the nationality that has inflicted the Lakota and the other Indians, yet he doesn't see the Lakota as the enemy, nor does he approve of everything that's being done to them.
Carter is troubled that many of the Native American schools that the Indians are forced into operate more like labor camps or schools in which the English language and Catholicism are forced onto the Natives to replace their languages and religions.
This book is rich with narrative and information. It is a little slow-going in the beginning, and it almost seems like the main story (involving John) doesn't quite start until midway through. There's a lot of setup. So, you need to be kinda patient until Carter or the author can get to the point.
We did appreciate how detailed and eye-opening this book was. This could easily be prescribed as required reading for a Native American college or high school course.
We also loved the photos, many of which you wouldn't believe were taken over a 100 years ago!
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