I am a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation whose ancestors lived peacefully on the lands of present-day Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee for centuries.
While most everyone knows me as Mitch Randall, my other name was given to me by a Comanche Chief: NUMUKUTSU, which translates into Buffalo.
I am the descendent of warriors, hunters and dancers. My ancestors walked the Trail of Tears and were forced to live on reservation lands within the Indian Territory of present-day Oklahoma.
My Indigenous family settled in Broken Arrow, living on the “brown side” of the tracks. I am a son of the Deer Clan, gifted with the strength and swiftness of those who came before me. My skin is brown, and my heart is red.
It is because of who I am – not what I have done – that I share this story.
After the turn of the 20th century, Muscogee Creek children Eloise Childers and her sister, Ruby, were taken from their homes. The little girls were born in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, in what was previously identified as “Indian Territory.”
The girls were relocated to the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, over 130 miles northwest of their family and friends back in Broken Arrow near the Oklahoma-Kansas border. Chilocco was modelled on Richard Henry Pratt’s school in Carlisle.
Upon arriving at Chilocco, the girls were told to strip down for a thorough scrubbing. After the bath, they were taken into a room where their long black hair was cut. It was then styled to reflect a more “civilized” and “Christian” style, which meant white.
Native Americans view their hair as sacred. So, when the girls left the room after their cut and style, they looked more like the strangers who bathed them than their own parents back home in Broken Arrow.
After the bath and haircuts, the girls were not given back their Indigenous clothing of smooth leather and soft ribbons and feathers. In their place, a scratchy wool military-like uniform covered every inch of their small frames.
The sisters fell asleep that night in a dark dormitory with other Indigenous children from different tribes that spoke unfamiliar languages. As they closed their eyes to discover their dreams, tears streamed down their cheeks, afraid of their new surroundings and missing home.
The girls woke the next morning to the busy sounds of children preparing for breakfast and what many were calling “school.” After the girls walked to the dining hall to have their breakfast, they were marched to school rooms where a stern white-faced woman greeted them.
The girls sheepishly smiled and said, “Hensci,” the traditional greeting in Muscogee Creek. The stern-faced woman responded, “Good morning,” and then uttered a lot of other words they did not understand.
An older student who spoke Muscogee Creek later informed the girls, “They do not like us using our language. They want us to use their language. They say it is better than ours. If we do not learn to use it, we get whipped.”
They had been told that coming to Chilocco and learning the ways of the white man would be good. Their parents told them to study hard so they could have a better life. No one mentioned the possibility of whippings for speaking their Native tongue.
Over the next several years, the girls learned the ways of white culture, adopting their hairstyles, wearing their clothes and speaking their language.
Every now and again, they would sneak down to the pond away from the campus to speak Muscogee Creek and recall stories of home. There were only a few times they were caught, which, just as the other student promised, ended in whippings.
The most grievous moments came on Sunday mornings when the girls were marched to a small chapel where a man in a black robe met them. He spoke about a man called Jesus who wanted them to be good Christians.
From what the girls could figure out, being a good Christian meant obeying their teachers, learning their lessons and following the ways of the white man.
However, when the stories of Jesus were told, Eloise and Ruby thought that Jesus sounded more like their ancestors than the white man telling the story. The girls assumed this was another white riddle they needed to figure out.
Church attendance was recorded, so their teachers knew when they skipped. One Sunday they went to the pond, and they were welcomed back to the dorms by the stern-faced woman holding a whip. They knew what would come next.
The girls finally aged out of Chilocco after several years, returning to Broken Arrow much different than when they left. They returned knowing the white man’s ways, but never fully understanding them.
Eloise and Ruby grew up to have children of their own, but both swore an oath never to send their children to Chilocco.
Pratt’s doctrine of “killing the Indian to save the man” was faulty from the start and unsuccessful in the end. No strategy – even one rooted in the violent discipline of children – could ever truly kill the person inside.
Eloise ended up marrying a Muscogee Creek man by the name of Mitchell who possessed a vivid imagination and humorous personality. He was a great baseball player, playing in the Indian leagues all around Eastern Oklahoma.
The couple had a daughter named Okema who stayed with them throughout her childhood, never having to suffer the fate of missing family and being forced to conform.
She married a white man by the name of Lester and had a son named Rodney. He married Jennifer and they had two boys, Mitch and Tyler.
I share this story — of my great-grandmother Eloise — to personalize the tragic history that began with Columbus’ arrival in 1492.
The Pratt Doctrine encapsulates so much of the erroneous thinking that informed European actions toward Indigenous peoples of North America that began 529 years ago this month.
Editor’s note: This article is the second in a three-part series. It is adapted and shortened from a lecture delivered at Baylor University on Oct. 12, 2021. Part one is available here. Part three is available here.
CEO of Good Faith Media.