Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education

By Robert Bensen 
The recent discoveries of over 1,000 Indigenous children’s graves near boarding and residential schools are the latest developments in the story of assimilative, arguably genocidal education in the U.S. and Canada. In poetry, fiction, and memoir, the boarding school experience is represented in Children of the Dragonfly, the first anthology of Indian literature devoted to Indian child education and welfare. The anthology also includes literature on adoption and foster care, when some 35 percent of Indian children were raised in non-Indian settings during the Sixties Scoop in Canada and the U.S. crisis that led to passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. Dragonfly is an ancient spirit in the Zuni story that saves two abandoned children and restores them to their people. That spirit is infused in the literature collected in Children of the Dragonfly.
Boarding schools were created to assimilate Indian children to the white world, which required the loss of cultural traditions. The literature tells us, however, that children kept their stories and practices as much as they could. U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s “The Woman Who Fell from the Sky” (1994) retells the ancient creation story in the story of Johnny and Lila. Together they endured the rigors and privations of boarding school, but afterward went their separate ways. Johnny joined the army. Lila worked at Dairy Queen and cleaned houses until she entered the story that had been her refuge at school. She married one of the stars and lived in the Sky World, where she was sure “she could find love in a place that did not know the disturbance of death.”

The University of Arizona Press

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