My Great-Grandmother, Sophia Huff, is in this photo. Can you find her? Here’s another enhanced photo of her to show you, the reader, where she is standing?
Sophia was a student at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School from July, 1891 until September, 1892. She was forced to attend this school because her mother refused to assimilate Euro-white and only speak English! Even though Carlisle was named industrial in it’s title, it really was an experiment by the United States government to assimilate Native American Indians into the white culture. Sophia and her sister Lily were transported by train many miles away from their home of Oneida, Wisconsin. As Sophia is posing in this photo, her sister, Lily was sent out to work for a white family in the countryside, never attending Carlisle again. The year Sophia was at the school, there was a lot of students that had taken ill due to overcrowding, overworked kids and unsanitary conditions. Sophia was a survivor, as were the other children posing in this picture! I really do not know how many children were ill, just know there were many! The children were monitored constantly and were ruled by whistles and bells, schedules and marching! I would venture to say, many, if not all of these children were punished for displaying any of their Indian Culture. Sophia was punished a lot for speaking her Oneida language. If you were born Oneida, taught Oneida language and spoke Oneida language for 14 years, you too would’ve been caught speaking a language that is a part of you. Sophia even was forced to chew on lye soap! Lye soap! That soap is a very caustic chemical that can cause serious damage, even death if ingested! It burned her throat. But, my great grandmother was a courageous Oneida woman. She survived, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here telling you her story!
In the early l960s when I was around 7 years old, I saw this photo of this old lady displayed in the Milwaukee Public Museum. Fast forward to the year 2000, thirty-seven years later I come across this very same photo! Lo and behold, the picture is hanging on a wall at my sister, Sherry’s home! I was just totally surprised to see this picture again. As mentioned in my book, I asked my sister where she got this picture from and why was it hanging on her wall? It is so ironic that for many years I thought about this old lady in this photo. Her image never escaped my mind. Well, Sherry told me the lady was our great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Hill-Huff-Denny. Sherry was surprised I didn’t know this. I was surprised to see this photo again! I can’t say it’s spooky that this photo appeared in my life again. I feel it was spiritual and meant to be. I sometimes feel like the picture was there to tell me something. After I learned I was a great great grand-daughter of this old lady I needed to find out more about her. I began to research Elizabeth. She could only speak Oneida. Wow! I would’ve loved to have met her and learned some Oneida from her. I would have given her a hug to let her know I love her. Though I can’t speak Oneida I know hugs are universal. We all understand what a hug means no matter what languages we speak. Elizabeth was a very feisty, independent woman. She was proud of her Oneida background. I realize that because she had her Oneida culture and language, she knew exactly who she was. Elizabeth would have learned English if she were allowed to be herself, Oneida.
Last week I mentioned that after 15 years of research of my great-grandmother and her mother, that I became aware of my colonization into the European-white culture. I also mentioned I knew nothing of my Oneida culture and language. I learned how my grandmothers’ survived attempts by the U.S. Government to assimilate them white. Their courage inspired me to tell their story in my book, Sky Woman Lives in Me. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would write a book, let alone a story about my relatives and me! I didn’t have the best grades in English class. I was always wondering why I looked Indian, but acted white. I always wondered why my great-grandmother had to go to the Carlisle Indian School and then, had to live with a Quaker family in New Jersey. I was told that this Quaker family was Sophia’s family now. Why? I learned that my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth, had her children taken from her. Elizabeth spoke Oneida and the government tried to force her to just learn and speak English. Why? How come I never met my great grandmother Sophia until she was in her eighty’s? And, how come I didn’t know Elizabeth and I were related, after seeing a photo of her displayed in a museum when I was seven years old? Nothing Native American Indian, nothing Oneida was taught to me. Elder Oneida relatives weren’t discussed, let alone introduced to me growing up, until they were very old! Realizing I have been colonized (raised Euro-White) has been a real eye-opener to me. Not knowing anything about my Oneida culture and language has left me feeling half a person. There’s a part of me, my Oneida self, missing. I was not allowed to learn my Oneida culture or language. Why?
I was inspired to write this book after researching why I was colonized white. I grew up looking Oneida but knew absolutely nothing about my Oneida culture nor language. I was prejudiced of my Oneida self.
I am sharing this again to make you aware of this true, historical book I wrote. Assimilation tactics on my relatives did not work. Thus, my grandmothers’ were able to maintain their Oneida culture and language. I share where I become aware of my own colonization into the white culture. Today, I am like an infant, taking baby steps towards reclaiming my Oneida heritage. I spent 15 years researching and writing this book. I hope you will consider reading it.
I am blogging to let you know about my book, Sky Woman Lives in Me. Here is what the cover looks like. Click here robertacapasso.com to learn more about my book and to learn more about me. This book is available at lulu.com and amazon.com Since this is my first time ever blogging, anyone reading this blog, please let know. Thank You! Sincerely, Roberta Capasso