“You will be eight in a few weeks. I trust that’s old enough to tell the difference between right and wrong. Our job here at Stover – and it is all of our jobs, even yours – is to teach these Indian children the ways of the Christian world. Yes, you may be their friend, but you must not join them if they fall back into the folly of their heathen ways. You must be a constant light. Do you understand?”
His words, like his gaze, lay heavy upon her. “Yes, sir. I do,” she said. But she didn’t – not really. What was so vile about their language? So barbaric about their games? What was so wrong about being Indian?
Between Earth and Sky is a remarkably poignant, slow-paced novel about the tragic attempts to assimilate Native American children from the 1880’s through the beginning of the 20th century. Alma Mitchell grew up as the only white student at Stover School, an institution run by her father to assimilate & Christianize the children of the neighboring reservations. Nearly fifteen years later, after learning that one of her Indian classmates was being accused of murdering a Federal Agent, Alma drags her husband from Philadelphia to Minnesota to help her prove his innocence. There, she comes face to face with her past and is forced to confront how Stover really effected those who attended.
Learning about this time in history was both heartbreaking and eye opening. This is one of those lessons that is generally skipped over in our American History classes and Skenandore brings light to the truth of how these schools and other assimilation efforts truly damaged the legacy of the Native American people – languages and traditions were lost forever.
I really liked Alma as a child. She was strong and courageous and questioned how her Indian friends were treated. There was even a little rebellion in her as she sneaked out of school with her new friends and learned to speak some of their Native American languages (which was strictly forbidden at the English only school). Her biggest fault was her naivety when it came to how the Indians and White people truly viewed each other. As a child, this was forgivable, but as an adult it was harder to believe.
As a grown woman, obviously haunted by her past, Alma was troubled. She was self deprecating and dishonest with her husband. What is more is that she seemed surprised at the state of the Native American people. As an adult (especially with her past) shouldn’t she really have known better? This pulled me through the novel – what had happened to that inquisitive and questioning child?
Between Earth and Sky is a tragically significant read and one that will stick in my heart for some time.
“It’s not so easy. Our worlds are like the sky and the earth…They get very close, but never touch.”