The handcuffs; Shane Murray

Indian Assimilation: The Mystery of the Tiny Handcuffs, Solved

Mary Annette Pember
1/10/13

Shane Murray vividly recalls the scowl on the face of the young Native woman at Haskell Indian Nation University’s Cultural Center when he placed a pair of tiny handcuffs on her desk. “She knew immediately that these were child’s handcuffs and thought I wanted an appraisal of their worth,” he says.

When he explained to the young student that he wanted to donate the handcuffs to the museum, her expression immediately softened, and she suggested he return later to meet with Bobbi Rahder, the Center’s director at the time.

Murray doesn’t remember when, exactly, this happened, but is sure it was in 2006 or 2007. How he came to possess the grim artifact and his experiences with it are aspects of a mysterious story that continues to haunt and amaze him.

He contacted ICTMN after reading the recent story about those tiny handcuffs and how they got to Haskell. In addition to correcting some factual errors, he explained that he wanted to  “continue his journey” with the handcuffs.

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Murray, 40, lives in Clarksville, Tennssee, but grew up in Kansas. He says that during a summer visit with family in El Dorado, Kansas, his grandfather called him away from the group of cousins with whom he had been playing. “I must have been about 8 or 9 years old,” he says.

His grandfather, Clarence Snyder, told him, “’I want to give you something.’ He showed me the handcuffs inside of a shoebox, and said, ‘I want you to hang on to these.’

“He told me the handcuffs were used to take Indian kids to school and warned me never to play with them.”

Murray says no one in his family knows how his grandfather, who has since passed away, came to have the handcuffs. “My grandfather was an interesting person. He had what they would now describe as PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] from his service during World War II. He would never talk about it, but I know he suffered horribly.”

Murray says his grandfather was aloof in his pain—he seldom talked with the rest of the family—but for some reason shared a bond with his young grandson. “I could sit and be quiet with him,” Murray recalls.

Murray’s relatives told him his grandfather grew up in Oklahoma and had a grandmother who was Native. Her tribal affiliation is unknown but her last name was Hefer. Murray speculates that the handcuffs came from her, his great, great grandmother Hefer.

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Murray did as he was told with the handcuffs—he carefully stored them with his most treasured possessions, where they stayed for almost 30 years, until the day he walked into the Cultural Center. Or did they?

“I know this may sound strange, but those handcuffs seemed to move,” he says, his voice faltering. “I would put them away and then they would seem to come and go on their own. I would put them someplace but then they would be gone for months or years.”

Murray says the handcuffs began to speak to him after he moved to Lawrence, where he had a job that took him past the Haskell campus on his daily commute. Each time he passed by the school, he says he thought of the handcuffs. Before long, Murray says, the handcuffs began to scream at him: “Take us home, take us home!”

Murray’s voice breaks with emotion as he recalls the day he donated them to the Cultural Center. “Tears were a-flowing among those present, “ he says.

Rahder and elders from Haskell invited Murray to return to the Center for a ceremony for the handcuffs, but he was unable to attend. “I kind of passed out after giving them the handcuffs,” he says. “I slept for two days; it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”

Even though he is no longer the keeper of the handcuffs, he feels a strong urge to serve as an advocate for them. “There are souls involved in that artifact and I feel as though I should give my two cents about their history,” he says, arguing that the history of Indian boarding schools needs to be brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness in the United States.

“I’m glad that Haskell has let the handcuffs be shown,” he says. “They are tangible proof that the atrocities at boarding schools really happened.

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

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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
They still want us to be exactly like them. Looking around, nothing really has changed only the methods and financial rewards carefully placed under the radar attempting to avoid any legal test. South Dakota will never change.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I am in complete agreement to revealing and showing them, it is and always will be part of the ongoing Subjugation of a People, the Nations who endured through this period and these tiny handcuffs are the connection. The energy that you felt is the spiritual energy of those who were restrained by them and Sadly have passed away, sometimes buried right at the school. They passed away from Grief and Sadness, of Abandonment, yes, they suffered so very greatly that they are still in a state of seeking resolvent as to this incomprehensible act. Now we can pray for them, now we know what happened to them and how they suffered, now we can help them go home, and Now We Must Learn From This..De'na Peda'Uyampiyedo, (We thank you for providing them, they alone reveal the horror of the Truth.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
In Alaska the boarding schools have graveyards of infants born to schoolkids raped by the priests and their helpers. The American sanctioned genocide continues to get rid of the Indigenous off their lands and their claims to the minerals and natural resources on them. The policies of colonialism continues as the parasites and leeches continue to commit theft and murder against the Indigenous. If you notice, our leaders REFUSE to protest theft and murder. The REFUSE to say. What gives these thieves and murderers the right to come onto our lands and claim they own them? Why do our leaders allow these thieves and murderers to continue to steal our resources? They've beemn trained to think inside a small box with a mindset of colonial policies foisted on them by a colonial power whose only aim is to invade and destabilize countries to allow the theft of their resources and lands by multinational, transglobal oil, energy and mining conglomerates who profit off stolen resources and leave death, contamination and destruction in their wake. Theft and murder and our leaders refuse to address it. When they do mention it, they act like the little boy Oliver from that movie when he ask. Pleaser sir, may I have another!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
IN THE BASEMENT OF THE OLD CHOW HALL...YOU COULD SEE SHAKLES ON THE WALL WHERE THEY WOULD PUT KIDS...IF I REMEMBER...THERE WE SOME FOR WRISTS AND ANKLES....THERE WERE 2 OR SETS NEXT TO EACH OTHER....WHEN THEY WERE REBUILDING THE SCHOOL...THEY WANTED TO TEAR DOWN THE BAND STAND BUT THE FORMER STUDENTS WHO WORKED THERE WOULDNT ALLOW THEM....THEY HAD TO MARCH IN LINE AND COULDNT SPEAK TO THE OPPOSITE SEX...BUT ON SUNDAY FOR A 2 OR 3 HR SPAN...THE TEACHERS WOULD STAND ON THE BAND STAND FACING OUTWARD...WHILE THE STUDENTS WALK AROUND AND AROUND IN A CIRCLE BEING ALLOWED TO TALK TO THE OPPOSITE SEX...THEREFORE...YOU MIGHT SAY IT WAS A SYMBOL OF FREEDOM FOR THEM!!!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I hope all the native people get back what is truly theirs one day and the true stories will be taught of what really happened in 1492 and the centuries to follow. It makes me completely sick to my stomach everything that our people went through just to survive and fight for the right to live. One day everyone will know the truth. Idle no more. Ive got a very small amount of Native in my blood but my heart and soul is 100% I will stand by my Native brothers and sisters til my last breathe. So glad this man did the right thing.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I hope all the native people get back what is truly theirs one day and the true stories will be taught of what really happened in 1492 and the centuries to follow. It makes me completely sick to my stomach everything that our people went through just to survive and fight for the right to live. One day everyone will know the truth. Idle no more. Ive got a very small amount of Native in my blood but my heart and soul is 100% I will stand by my Native brothers and sisters til my last breathe. So glad this man did the right thing.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Let's hope this never happens again :( that was cruel to take the kids away from their homes....

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
This should never have happened..... one day the wrong will be sit right ...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Well I guess now I know they really do exist and that my grandfather was telling the truth about the abuse he seen, I rememebr him telling me all the time it is not his fault for being addicted to alcohol as the teachers whom called him savage forced him to drink it to "calm" him down, :( Anytime I hear a horror story like this my spirit trembles in fear and I become scared

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
I could never understand why people hated Hitler so much for what he did to Jewish people ..don't get me wrong ,I think he was a monster, but even as a little girl I could see no difference in what white people did to the Indian people .Was he only wrong because the people he did it to had white skin? I actually asked a teacherthat in 4th grade and was sent to the office and punished,but I still see no difference.He took over their lands and killed them off ...simply because he did not like the blood that ran in their veins. That is what the white men did to the entire Indian Nation ,because they didn't like the color of their skin or the blood that ran through their veins.Tell me where is the difference???

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
As i go.on my journey I am haunted.by the spirits of those young people who had there identities stolen. Those involved will get their due.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
OK, we all know Indians were taken advantage of, we all know blacks were slaves, we all know the Irish (especially Irish Catholic) were discriminated against. No one is asking for those things to be negated. But when are we going to let go of the past and look toward the future? I was not a slave, neither were you. I was not an immigrate, neither were you. My land was not taken by the white man, neither was yours. The worst thing the white man ever did to you was to allow you to STAY on the res! Leave! Get a job! Look out for yourself! Stop waiting for someone else to live your life! Its YOURS! Make something of yourself! And stop whining and calling yourself a "victim". You are what you say! If you say you are a "person of honor", then BE one! Get up and get going!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Among the arrogant and dissembling ideas prevalent now, is that 'we' are at the top of some imagined pyramid of beings, and actually,it's greed. Until complete truth is spoken and believed about the harm and destruction done to indigenous peoples, and continuing to harm and disregard elders and children, the "screams" will never stop. Always respect. Never forget.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
There are no words to share and express what I am feeling at this moment. My heart is heavy, I am saddened at the thought of what these tiny hand if represent... I am sickened...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
what an amazing part of history, sad as it is, it is part of this country .... thank you so much for sharing this, and the story that went with it.......

whereslora's picture
whereslora
Submitted by whereslora on
A powerful story. Somehow those little handcuffs and the children who wore them have now entered my heart and consciousness. Now knowing about this I can never go back to not knowing.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
A story like this must be shared. Everyone needs to know and remember, as a basis for life together now and in the future.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
it breaks my heart to know the things that went on in these schools, so sad

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
They should be sent to the office of the Prime Minister to be explained why they were made !

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
What did we as a people do to desearve any of the evil they inflicted on us<makes me hurt

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
My Grandmother who was White Earth Chippewa spent her childhood years at Haskell Institute in the early nineteen hundreds.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Yes these atrocities REALLY happened! I have studied genocide and its numbers and its begining signs and ultimate ends. The most studied and copied forms of abuse in history of this form was not from Hitler and his henchmen but from the genocide of the American Indian. Yes my ignorent friends, Hitler studied this continents genocide which still excists to this day in the form of cultural and social anhialation. How sad to lear that what was thought the greatest tradgedy in the holaucost in WWII was actualy a study of acceptance through the Nazis of our American Indians own Genocide. The whole world has horrible [or should] shame to rectifie...It is now time for this to begin....Look for the book "Star Quarry" perhaps the possible new approach to this problem......

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
this made me cry....as a Native, I knew this happened to our ancestors. But the sight of those tiny handcuffs hit me in the gut

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