Hi, I'm writing a story that has a Native (Cherokee) mc. In my story, 70 years into the future, America is trying to rebuild itself after losing WW3, and isn't the safest place to live. My mc' s parents want her to be successful and able to leave America, so they send her to a boarding school in London, where she studies engineering in hopes of getting a job and enough money to get her parents out of America. I wanted to know how to avoid making the school seem like an assimilation school?
Sending a Cherokee Protagonist Away to School and Possible Assimilation Issues
I’m going to tell you something you probably don’t want to hear: there is no way to avoid making this look like an assimilation school, because the plot is built on assimilation and places assimilation as not only necessary, but preferable.
Indigenous groups from around the world have, indeed, sent their children to Western schools because their home was in danger. Many anthropological interpreters, who have lent the best data because they lived in two worlds, are such children. Many negotiators for treaty rights, stopping further colonialism, and teachers are more such children. Every example I could name— and sadly names other than Princess Ka'iulani and Francis La Flesche are escaping me— have the children return to the nation so they can try and negotiate with colonizers, and/or work with anthropologists to preserve culture. They are viewed as a necessary sacrifice in order to survive long term.
Children are so, so, so prized in Indigenous cultures. They are our future, and our societies have fallen apart because our children have been taken away. We try to keep our children close (unless trauma over generations of forced assimilation makes us think it’s for the best our children assimilate, but that is a plot non-Natives should not touch), so sending a child so far away, where there is no hope of them being able to continue their culture, is a level of hopelessness I cannot articulate. Having the goal be to take the parents away is even worse. When everything we do is to protect our ancestral lands, throwing that away is inconceivable to an Indigenous person.
And there lies the crux of why this story has an inescapable assimilation plot. When Indigenous groups send their children away, they do so in order for the children to come back partially assimilated and help protect their home. Natives do not have the concept of giving up their ancestral lands willingly. Every single resistance movement since colonization began has been built on the exact opposite, which is to stay on our homelands as long as humanly possible. Despite everything colonizers have tried to do to have us leave, we refuse to.
You cannot escape the assimilation plot you have, should you choose to go on this course. Read the story of Queen Liliʻuokalani and Princess Ka'iulani. Read the story of Francis La Flesche. Read them as told by their people. Those stories are the narratives for why we send our children away. It is not to help our parents escape. It is to help our lands remain as ours.
~ Mod Lesya