Luther Standing Bear

Standing Bear describes how he gains an English-language name. Contrast this with how his father gained his name, as described by Gerald Vizenor in the prefatory material to your selected passages. How does Standing Bear describe the acquisition of his English-language name? What was the role of the warrior in this exchange? Was the naming, in effect, an exchange? Of what?

Vizenor describes the first days of the Native children at boarding school. He writes, “the natural reason of these students was transmuted overnight by uncomfortable clothes, short hair, and the given names of dominance. Native languages were silenced as one of the wicked means of assimilation by decree in a constitutional democracy. The children contravened these heinous censures with some humor, to be sure, but they were burdened with the shadow distance of their native memories and solace” (32). This is a complex passage, yet within it are many rich idea for applying to Standing Bear’s passage. Describe the following:

• What do you gather Vizenor means by “natural reason”?

• Discuss Standing Bear’s description of the silencing of Native languages. When his father comes to visit, what happens concerning this prohibition?

• What evidence do you see in Standing Bear of children contravening “heinous censure[s] with some humor”?

• What evidence do you see of the “shadow distance of [the children’s] native memories”?

Despite the many difficult negotiations of Standing Bear’s arrival at boarding school – the hair-cutting, the clothing adoption, the rough environment of the school itself upon the children’s arrival – does Standing Bear reflect on his school days with pride? How does he present Captain Pratt? When his father meets Captain Pratt, what is their exchange like, from what Standing Bear tells of it?

On Page 36, Standing Bear describes one boy’s experience with gaining his “white” name. Standing Bear comments that the boy’s gestures at the chalkboard suggest that his thoughts were “Shall I—or will you help me –take one of these names? Is it right for me to take a white man’s name?” Comment on the ramifications of the adoption of names? What does the new name erase? What does it fix, perhaps?

Standing Bear’s comment on Page 39 is compelling: “Now, after having had my hair cut, a new thought came into my head. I felt that I was no more Indian, but would be an imitation of a white man. And we are still imitations of white men, and the white men are imitations of the Americans.” What do you make of this? Consider the fact that Standing Bear toured with Buffalo Bills Wild West Show. Did Standing Bear himself perpetuate the practice of imitation, himself imitating “an Indian”? And following Vizenor, if the “Indian” is always an imitation by dint of the falsehood embedded in that word alone, what is the mark of “genuine” Native identity? Where is Standing Bear’s account can we perceive the nature – the natural reason – of his Native selfhood?