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
My grandmother use to tell me stories of being brought to a boarding school "across the lake". She said the nuns there would wash their mouths out with soap when they spoke Ojibwe, cut their hair immediately upon arrival to school, and throw their moccasins away. She said she was able to come home in the summer time and would throw the hard shoes away and put on her moccasins my great grandmother made for her while she was away. She use to say her feet felt like one with the earth again. Our elders made great sacrafices in order for our people to live on! We must always show respect to our elders!!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Wow!! So sad . . .and haunting!! These stories need to come out!! Tiny handcuffs . . for tiny children. Children that were raped, murdered, and thrown aside like they did not matter. These are our ancestors screaming . . .screaming for justice. For the pain and suffering to stop to our people!! <3 <3 <3

Tracy Powder's picture
Tracy Powder
Submitted by Tracy Powder on
My Mother just passed this month on the 9th,she told me of the story about how she was stolen from her home on her reserve and taken to a residential school by a priest and a nunn.She was with another girl and they were lied to and told they would be driven to the store and taken back home.They were taken to Gordens residential school and my Grandmother Bluebird Moosewaypayo couldnt speak any english and couldnt get her home.She had her eardrum broken by getting slapped in the ear and this is the reason she applied for her monies,well she passed away before she could get her money, but my father is going to be recieving it.We will be helping him buy a car for himself.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Just visited the Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ on January 18, 2013. While on a tour the tour leader explained the reason why the indian kids went to the boarding schools was because the parents couldn't take care of them.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
Very sad to see those handcuffs...My father and many of my relatives went to residential school, its hard to believe that in Canada the last residential school closed in 1996....its really hurts me that some people say get over it etc. those comments are the same as saying molesting, raping and abusing a child is okay...like it happened to you back then now get over it...

TIna's picture
TIna
Submitted by TIna on
Those tiny handcuffs are traveling on a new journey to remind us of what our ancestors endured and how brutalized our children were treated. After I read the article and looked at those tiny handcuffs, I went home and looked at my grand sons (18 months & 3 years old) and cried and cried and cried. I think about those babies and keep them in my prayers and thoughts.

Brenda Jacobs 's picture
Brenda Jacobs
Submitted by Brenda Jacobs on
Very true, about the atrocities and sad how our grandparents were treated. I'm from the Tsuu T'ina Nation, Alberta, Canada. I love History and thank you for sharing this amazing information about the tiny hand-cuffs.

Brenda Jacobs 's picture
Brenda Jacobs
Submitted by Brenda Jacobs on
Very true, about the atrocities and sad how our grandparents were treated. I'm from the Tsuu T'ina Nation, Alberta, Canada. I love History and thank you for sharing this amazing information about the tiny hand-cuffs.

aliberaldoseofskepticism's picture
aliberaldoseofs...
Submitted by aliberaldoseofs... on
It gets worse. I've read about how some of the priests forced girls they'd raped to have abortions. Because that's what being a good Catholic is, amirite? Then you have other cases. In BC, they even sent kids to Vancouver and then pimped them out. That was in the 1990s. At least one engineer at NASA has told his own story about being abused by priests at a mission in Quebec the 60s.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I've argued with a conservative teacher about NDNs and education. She stated that Native Americans sleep in the bed they made for themselves. "Public education is free to everyone," she said, "and if you do well enough you can get scholarships to go to college." She refused to believe that many schools (especially on Reservations) are under-funded, and that NDNs have an inherent distrust of the educational system. Her immediate family includes a physician, a college professor and a lawyer (she is Hispanic) so she is adamant that public education can pull people from "the ghetto." While I agree with her in that assertion, she doesn't realize the many pitfalls that face Native American students. It's not difficult to see how child-sized handcuffs might make an entire people wary of "public education." Everyone bases their opinions on their own personal history, but how many people outside of American Indians have a history of being sent hundreds of miles away from immediate family to have their culture, language and religion ripped away, all the while being physically, emotionally, psychologically and sometimes even sexually abused? How many Hispanic children were led to school in handcuffs? What other culture in th U.S. suffered a near genocide? Our combined cultures share a common history that can NEVER be understood by others until the details of that history is revealed by the government who forced us into it. This will NEVER happen as it will require a formal apology from the U.s. government for all the ills they wrought upon NDN people.

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