Mary Englunds An Indian Remembers



This paper is an attempt to discuss the biography of Mary Englund’s An Indian Remembers based on her childhood experiences in a Christian European convent. Her story starts from the day she is taken away from her family to be civilized in a distant residential school. Englund’s experience in the school could be described as European way of civilizing the young native people that includes compulsory assimilation, segregation, control and racism. The concept of civilization is perceived to be for the best interest of the Indian community, or at least this is what it seems to appear like. Thus, this paper will tackle the issues of methods used to civilize the Natives and its effects on Englund’s personality and mentality as well as the real purpose behind civilization. Is it really for the best interest of the Indian people or is it a form of exploitation of the Natives to benefit the European colonialists?
Assimilation is one form used to civilize the native children. This seems to put Englund to a lot of curiosity eventually to confusions. On her first day in Mission, Englund learns about the assimilation policy implemented by the convent which draws out her curiosity about its purpose. In her experience, she learns that boys and girls live in separate buildings and wonders why. She appears curious and thus questions a lot but she gets no decent answer to satisfy her curiosity. Englund also observes girls being divided in groups to certain tables during meals and girls are assigned to different jobs, some goes to the dormitory while others to kitchen or classrooms. Again, she does not seem to understand the purpose of these procedures. This explains her ignorance about the system of a Christian convent. Anyhow, she seems to let go of her curiosity and simply accept it as a form of instruction she ought to follow with no question asked. With all these curiosities, she has possibly developed a sense of confusion on why things are done in these manners.
Another form used by the school is by segregation. Through this, Englund seems to suffer from isolation. Englund recalls when a priest takes her from her family (430). While she is expected to feel sad leaving her mother, she seems to feel nothing but excitement. She says that “We were left alone so many times we never had the tendency to say, ‘Well, I’m sorry I’m going to go away and leave my mother’ because we were alone most of the time.” (431) Due to her mother’s recurrent absence, it seems like Englund does not have the chance to bond with her which explains her coldness towards her mother. Though one would be induced to concur to this, Englund does not totally blame her mother as she recognizes the sacrifice she has to make to feed them. When she arrives in the Mission, she is then separated from her brother. Englund makes a few friends in the convent but as she learns that she could not trust anyone, she possibly voluntarily distant herself from others. In one instance, they are told not to discuss their school activities with their parents but there is one girl who does it and hence she gets reprimanded for that. Due to this incident Englund becomes cautious not to be seen doing anything inappropriate or else she is bound to be scolded by the nuns. As she grows older, she learns to bottle up her feelings knowing that telling a soul could possibly cause her a punishment. Being away from the people she cares about and finding no one to trust among her classmates, Englund’s narration suggests that she suffers from isolation. Though she may think that she could trust her mother, she dare not tell her anything fearing that someone would tell the nuns. It seems like Englund has no choice but to keep her feelings and opinions to herself causing her loneliness.
Moreover, the nuns have full control over the native children by means of strict surveillance and punishments. This seems to be the cause of the development of Englund’s rebellious nature. No matter where they are, in or out of school, the nuns have their eyes on them.