Mary Annette Pember
(Mary Annette Pember)

Tiny Horrors: A Chilling Reminder of How Cruel Assimilation Was—And Is

Mary Annette Pember
1/1/13

For such small objects, the child’s handcuffs are surprisingly heavy when cradled in the palms of one’s hand. Although now rusted from years of disuse, they still convey the horror of their brutal purpose, which was to restrain Native children who were being brought to boarding schools. “I felt the weight of their metal on my heart,” said Jessica Lackey of the Cherokee tribe as she described holding the handcuffs for the first time.

Lackey, an alumnus of Haskell Indian Nations University, was working at the school’s Cultural Center & Museum when the handcuffs were unwrapped last spring after being kept in storage for several years. I had heard rumors about the existence of the handcuffs during visits to Haskell over the years and had made numerous inquiries to school authorities about them, but people seemed very reluctant to discuss this touchy artifact. This past summer, however, Haskell agreed to allow a public viewing of the handcuffs. Andy Girty, one of the elders who first blessed the handcuffs when they were given to Haskell in 1989, helped unwrap them for me.

Known as the Haskell Institute in its early years, the school opened its doors in 1884. It was originally founded as an instrument of the final solution to this country’s “Indian problem”; Haskell Institute’s mission then was embodied in the now infamous motto of Captain Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” This mind-set led to decades of forced acculturation through brutal military-style incarceration cloaked as education in U.S. Indian boarding schools.

Although begun as a model for assimilation, native students have, over the years, transformed Haskell into a model for self-determination. The school’s early curriculum featured training in domestic and farming skills but has since evolved into four-year university.

Haskell’s Cultural Center & Museum, located on campus, tells the full—and often cruel—story of Haskell’s painful past as well as providing a venue to showcase Native art, culture from the past and present. Opened in 2002, the center features the permanent exhibit Honoring Our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration, featuring artifacts, photos and letters from the school’s early days.

Among the artifacts currently on display is

Andy Girty and Jessica Lackey

a heavy iron lock and key for the school jail, which held unruly students. Letters, photographs, copies of early school newspapers and daily menus are among the more commonplace artifacts of early daily life displayed at the museum. One display includes a heavy lock and key from the small on site jail used to punish unruly students. Soon, perhaps, the handcuffs will be included among these artifacts, adding its chilling testimony regarding the practices used by early educators to kill the Indian and save the child.

Not much is known about the diminutive handcuffs, which were donated to the Cultural Center in 1989 by a non-Indian man who described their use to Bobbi Rahder, former director of the Haskell Cultural Center & Museum. “He told us they were used to restrain captured Indian children who were being taken to boarding schools,” says Rahder. The middle-age white man said his father had the handcuffs for years but that he no longer wanted to have them in his possession. “He seemed relieved to get rid of them,” Rahder recalls.

I made many phone calls, but was unable to track down the man, who is said to have lived in Lawrence. According to Rahder, he failed to respond to messages they had left him over the years, and he has not been seen at Haskell since the day he brought the handcuffs to the Cultural Center. “It was all very vague. He didn’t tell us how his father came to have the handcuffs. He showed up one day and donated them to the Center,” she says.

Mysterious donations are common at the Cultural Center. Rahder has witnessed scores of non-Indian donors dropping off important—and often poignant—historical artifacts relating to Haskell. Last year, Roger Bollinger of Pennsylvania donated an 1880s leather-bound photo album containing photos and corresponding identifications of Haskell’s very first students in 1884. This album represents the only known identifiable photos from that inaugural class. Bollinger knew little of Haskell and had no idea how the album came to be in his family’s possession. A supporter of education and cultural understanding, he decided tom donate the album to Haskell.

The handcuffs, however, were different, notes Rahder, who took them from the man. “I was shocked and afraid to touch them,” she recalls.

She says she immediately contacted administrative and spiritual leaders at the school for guidance on handling the handcuffs. Leaders at Haskell were overwhelmed by the brutality of the tiny handcuffs, she noted.

Girty, of the Cherokee Nation, who is a Cherokee language instructor at Haskell and a number of other elders and leaders, conducted a modest ceremony the next day at the school’s medicine fire. His wife, Frances, of the Creek and Choctaw Nations, provided a tiny handmade quilt in which the handcuffs were reverently wrapped before being stored in the Cultural Center’s archives. The handcuffs remained in storage for more than 20 years.

Although the Cultural Center displays a number of artifacts related to the harsh treatment of early Indian students at Haskell, the handcuffs were simply too painful to be addressed, opined Rahder. She says elders blessed the handcuffs and instructed her to put them away. She did as she was told, trusting that students and faculty would one day decide on the appropriate treatment of this painful artifact. The handcuffs languished in the archives of the center until this past summer.

As word of the handcuffs began to leak out over the past few years, students and faculty began discussing the importance of acknowledging their existence and putting them on display. For whatever reason, no one at the school has been willing to take the lead in the handling of this powerful artifact, but with the approval of Haskell administration, Girty agreed to unwrap them for ICTMN.

For Lackey the handcuffs are a tangible example of the painful history between Native people and the U.S. “The history of our genocide has been so swept under the rug by the mainstream. People need to see the impact that these policies had on us,“ she  says.

According to Girty, who was a student at Haskell in 1959, there are many stories of the brutal means used by authorities to bring and keep students at school in its early days. For instance, reservation authorities would hold back Native families’ food rations if they refused to allow children to be sent to early boarding schools, he noted. “If those handcuffs could talk, they would tell some terrible stories,” he says.

Steve Prue, spokesman for Haskell, says there are no immediate plans regarding how the handcuffs will be presented to the public, nor how they will be displayed. He agrees with students that the handcuffs are an appropriate item to be included in displays of other Haskell artifacts at the Cultural Center. “It’s good to have these sorts of things on display in the Cultural Center,” he says. “They tell the story of who paid the price for us to be here now.”

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It is so sad that most Americans don't even know about these horrendous acts of cruelty and that our Government has the attitude that if we deny it...it didn't happen. Thank you for bringing this story to light.....although it is so sad, it is a truth that must be told.

tselimaya84's picture
tselimaya84
Submitted by tselimaya84 on
Hmm, this is INDIAN Country Today, is it not? There always seems to be some idiot who says something like this: "What a bunch of nonsense. File this under myths, like fabled small pox blankets. You people need to stop whining." From my understanding, including official records, small pox blankets are NOT a "fabled myth"! And, this isn't whining, its a telling of history! What makes Native history any less important than any other? When the person says "You people..." I can only assume they aren't Native, SO what business do you have posting on an INDIAN website?!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This is why history is impt to go through despite what we have to recognize.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
in our bodies there are millions of white blood cells. the red ones lay down their lives to protect the body. the one and only creator ,known by the first nations people, remembers the sins of our forefathers and the genocide then and now. please be in the change , "occupy till I come" , was said by the creator and the day of judgement is at hand. e

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
in our bodies there are millions of white blood cells. the red ones lay down their lives to protect the body. the one and only creator ,known by the first nations people, remembers the sins of our forefathers and the genocide then and now. please be in the change , "occupy till I come" , was said by the creator and the day of judgement is at hand. even today we spend billions on protecting the lie. 10% would change the world if directed into a sustainable world .very 10 seconds a child dies for lack of clean water. Idle no more , occupy , prayers , Love , songs , sharing , caring, blessing others , forgiveness , are some of the ways to be the change the world needs. There are so many willing and so many still asleep , but this awakening can not be stopped! As red cells lay down their lives for their friends, I choose to be red in spirit and truth. Adoption is open to all who will join the creator of all. there will be a great tribulation and sorrow but the reward will be ... Breath in the pain deep down through your heart let this be a place where we can heal together. breath in the love deep down through your heart let this be a place where we can love one another live in the moment and be the change in your very, "Being".

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Please, please, display these handcuffs. As a white man I can assure you that most whites are not aware of the thousands of atrocities. When I was a child, whites were more aware of injustices against Native Americans than they are today. There are many reasons for this, as you know better than I. But look at what the Jews have done with the death camps of World War II. They have not tried to hide them in a blanket. Nor have African Americans tried to hide the slaves quarters, but are now trying to preserve them and encourage visitors to them. I believe that only by exposing the wrongs and facing the cruelties directly, will we best remember them. If we forget them, they may be repeated.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
horribly, the industrial revolution in this country led to the creation of new technology that was often used to create new ways to repress and enslave natives and africans

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
The "Old Indian School" could be likened to the "Old Reform School Systems" established back in the day. To have a 20th Century Person try and understand the "Old Indian School System" to a Non-Indian or a Current Indian;that would be the Example that this Time Era people could understand. It is not that they would accept that Pattern of Treatment as valid; but could have a "personal historic view" of that School System;and its historic effects. Now, to not expose and address the "Old Indian School System" to All That Shall See; those artifacts must be made Public and NOT concealed in storage for those Artifacts to "UNDUE" what was done by them. To "rehabilitate history" that was never told, but was kept silent by non-disclosure. How do "Medicine People" conduct "Soul Retrival" for the People? They take "The Spirit" back to the time when the "indignities" took place. The "Medicine People" can NOT re-write History; but they can have the History looked upon in a different light for "The Spirit" to understand why and how "The Spirit" suffered those "Spiritual Indignities" so that they are no longer "unwanted baggage" to "The Spirit". Many are in awe that "Medicine People" can do this, and have done so for Centuries; because "Medicine People" through Generation to Generation learned about "Spiritual Reincarnation" and why we have the "Spiritual" issues as individuals that we do. Modern Medicine call the "Treatment Sessions" today as Hypno -Therapy techniques that have the "Client" Spiritually / Psychic Return to that moment in time where that event occurred; through principals of "Quantum Physics" that The Ancient Ones taught from the beginning of Time. It is nothing to "fear", but a thing to use as a tool for individual Spiritual Development and Maturity. It is also used in today's treatments of PTSD issues to our Returning Veterans. This is where "Old Medicine & New Medicine" come together for "Wellness of The Spirit & The Human Being" as a whole. So, do not be afraid to display the Truth of the matter, so that its history will not be repeated again.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
It is really distrubing and very sad that the mind set of human men act like monsters they aren't even an animal because even an animal wouldn't do the thinks men have done. I hope that they history can be remember this sad event and that we can all do something for it to never happen agian.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
What a shame! It reminds me of the human trafficking that goes on today. Love is stronger than indifference. Choose Love. Pass it on. Choose kindness and pass it on. Learn from the past because you cannot change what was. You can make a difference.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
"The suffering of any human being is always grievous, but in particular when the suffering is inflicted by one human being(s) on another human being(s). Could it be we are reaping the consequences of a Theory that promotes the survival of the fittest? This article is encouraging the essential worth of individuals and in particular the American Indian, which is a very noble cause. This should be the case for all individuals. How do we get essential worth from Time plus Matter plus Chance? Will we someday decades from now be reading an article and going to museums to see instruments, "Child's handcuffs", such as a Manual Vaccum Aspiration, Uterine Currette, Syringe with Spinal Needle, Forceps, Cervical Dilators, Embryotomy Scissors, and Cervical Dilator used to inflict pain on others? The article commences with: For such small objects, the child’s handcuffs are surprisingly heavy when cradled in the palms of one’s hand. Although now rusted from years of disuse, they still convey the horror of their brutal purpose, which was to restrain Native children who were being brought to boarding schools.' Are the child's "handcuffs" used today heavy when cradled in the palm of one's hand and have we understood and conveyed the horror of their brutal purpose?" To many our society is still handcuffing children, unfortunately.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'm very saddened and found my self crying for these children of the past. I drift back and think how I would have done something about it. But in reality I don't know what I would have done if I had been there. If I had been a teacher at this school I would have liked to think that I would have treated the children with kindness and love. I think these need to be displayed if for no other reason but to remind Americans of human cruelty and that America is not immune to its charms. It sickens me when I hear people say it is ok to drone strike children in Afghanistan maybe if they would have seen these handcuffs sooner they would feel differently about the babies being butchered over there in the name of war.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
These awful items should be displayed along with their full story. many non natives know full well of the horrible atrocities committed and are fighting along side the first nation to expose the truth. I beg everyone to remember these horrible actions were committed long before we were alive. I have seen things posted condemning other races for actions taken long ago. we are fighting the fight with you, not against you. many of us are doing all we can to make things right for the Native People. What happened in the past can never be made right but what happens now and in the future can be a fight we can all get behind.

Dave-O's picture
Dave-O
Submitted by Dave-O on
I was blessed as a young white child to have parents who open their door to everyone, I listened and learned from many stories that were told around the kitchen table. Those shared stories remain with me to this day that shared strength of love and understanding still passes through me to speak to others about what I learned so well.

Mark Lyons's picture
Mark Lyons
Submitted by Mark Lyons on
This story is wrought with bogus information. I am not at all familiar with the plight of Native Americans as they appear in this story, but I am very well versed in the study of restraints and in this case, handcuffs. I have made numerous TV appearances and have written many published articles on the subject. I call tell you that these handcuffs are toy cuffs which are sold on eBay on a daily basis. They are dated from the late 1920's and 30's, but they are for kids to play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians with. The only thing sad about the use of these toys is that they were used to lock up the play Indians which is now viewed as being politically incorrect. In past generations, it was acceptable for kids to play that game but those days are way behind us now. Eventually, it will be wrong for kids to play cops and robbers too. Kids now-a-days can't even raise their thumb and extend their index finger to make a pretend gun in school without getting 3 days off. These toy cuffs do NOT require the use of a key and the small spring loaded tab (visible in the picture) needs to be pushed up or down to extricate oneself from the toy manacles. Any 4 or 5 year old kid pretending to be Davy Crocket or Elliot Ness (if they even know these names anymore) can figure it out. I will reread the article and am certain to find more flaws. I am positive there are real stories about the mistreatment of the native people in the land but anyone who reads this story can go to sleep tonight knowing that nobody was really harmed or suffered in any way in this story. The bulk of the story appears to be fictional and not based on anything which can be verified as the truth. Again, I am not claiming that the Native Americans did not have a history of oppression. They certainly did and I am not knowledgeable about the many atrocities they endured. I am just stating that as an expert on handcuffs, this particular story could never be considered true in nature as long as these toy handcuffs are being represented to be the instruments of the described oppression.

Ian McColl's picture
Ian McColl
Submitted by Ian McColl on
The cuffs you picture were toys and never used as you write. Foolish and unsophisticated journalism.

cuffs's picture
cuffs
Submitted by cuffs on
OK first off I have to say this story is just something made up to get a reaction from the public The person who wrote this did not do there homework and took a harmless pair of kids handcuffs made in the 1020s and made them to be the most evil device known to man.These were sold win a package in the 1920s with a gun and badge for children to play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers These were never used to restrain kids of any kind,these require no key to open just the flick of a button and your out.I can not understand why someone would even fabricate such a dumb possibility that these would have a dark history.You can buy these on ebay for a couple dollars.Before you come up with a story to get more people interested in your paper due some research and check that the facts are true.I played with a set of these back in the 1970s as a kid they are around

Mark Lyons
Mark Lyons
Submitted by Mark Lyons on
This story is wrought with bogus information. I am not at all familiar with the plight of Native Americans as they appear in this story, but I am very well versed in the study of restraints and in this case, handcuffs. I have made numerous TV appearances and have written many published articles on the subject. I call tell you that these handcuffs are toy cuffs which are sold on eBay on a daily basis. They are dated from the late 1920's and 30's, but they are for kids to play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians with. The only thing sad about the use of these toys is that they were used to lock up the play Indians which is now viewed as being politically incorrect. In past generations, it was acceptable for kids to play that game but those days are way behind us now. Eventually, it will be wrong for kids to play cops and robbers too. Kids now-a-days can't even raise their thumb and extend their index finger to make a pretend gun in school without getting 3 days off. These toy cuffs do NOT require the use of a key and the small spring loaded tab (visible in the picture) needs to be pushed up or down to extricate oneself from the toy manacles. Any 4 or 5 year old kid pretending to be Davy Crocket or Elliot Ness (if they even know these names anymore) can figure it out. I will reread the article and am certain to find more flaws. I am positive there are real stories about the mistreatment of the native people in the land but anyone who reads this story can go to sleep tonight knowing that nobody was really harmed or suffered in any way in this story. The bulk of the story appears to be fictional and not based on anything which can be verified as the truth. Again, I am not claiming that the Native Americans did not have a history of oppression. They certainly did and I am not knowledgeable about the many atrocities they endured. I am just stating that as an expert on handcuffs, this particular story could never be considered true in nature as long as these toy handcuffs are being represented to be the instruments of the described oppression.

ejldixie's picture
ejldixie
Submitted by ejldixie on
Please don't blame all Whites. In the 1830s, my family hid Creek Indians from being removed, as did other settlers in the area. Today, many still live here in middle Georgia. Our government has done some cruel things. Suggested reading by Kent Nerburn. In order read "Neither Wolf nor Dog" and next "The Wolf At Twilight."

Brent's picture
Brent
Submitted by Brent on
I am having difficulty with what appears to me to be toy handcuffs, being described as an item that was used to restrain native children, without provenace. I have not heard of children being restained this way with all the accounts of residential schools and even during the forced move of the Cherokee from their lands in the East to the West. To accept these as true artifacts on one person's hearsay is foolish at best. You need to look much deeper into the history of the abuse of native children and get eyewitness accounts.

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