Redskin boy-child who looks out from his little cradle-board
on a world of forest through whose trails his baby feet
are already being fitted to follow is not many hours
old before careful hands wrap him about with gay-beaded
bands that are strapped to the carven and colored back-board
that will cause him to stand erect and upright when
he is a grown warrior. His small feet are bound against
a foot support so that they are exactly straight; that
is to start his walk in life aright.
He is but an atom in the most
renowned of the savage races known to history, a people
that, according to the white man’s standard, is
uncivilized, uneducated, illiterate, and barbarous.
Yet the upbringing of every Red Indian male child begins
at his birth, and ends only when he has acquired the
learning considered essential for the successful man
to possess, and which has been predetermined through
many ages by many wise ancestors.
His education is twofold, and
always is imparted in “pairs” of subjects—that
is, while he is being instructed in the requisites of
fighting, hunting, food getting, and his national sports,
he takes with each “subject” a very rigid
training in etiquette, for it would be as great a disgrace
for him to fail in manners of good breeding as to fail
to take the war-path when he reaches the age of seventeen.
education of an Iroquois boy is begun before he can
even speak. The first thing he is taught is courage—
[Page 123] the primitive courage that
must absolutely despise fear—and at the same time
is thoroughly grounded in the first immutable law of
Indian etiquette, which is that under no conceivable
conditions must one ever stare, as the Redskin races
hold that staring marks the lowest level of ill-breeding.
second subject is religious training. While he is yet
a baby in arms he is carried “pick-a-back”
in his mother’s blanket to the ancient dances
and festivals, where he sees for the first time, and
in his infant way participates in, the rites and rituals
of the pagan faith, learning to revere the “Great
Spirit,” and to anticipate the happy hunting grounds
that await him after death.
the end of a long line of picturesque braves and warriors
who circle gracefully in the worshipping dance, his
mother carries him, her smooth, soft-footed, twisting
step lulling him to sleep, for his tiny, copper-colored
person, swinging to every curve of the dance, soon becomes
an unconscious bit of babyhood. But the instant he learns
to walk, he learns, too, the religious dance-steps.
Then he rises to the dignity of being allowed to slip
his hand in that of his father and take his first important
steps in the company of the men.
his religious training is the all-important etiquette
of accepting food without comment. No Indian talks of
food, or discusses it while taking it. He must neither
commend nor condemn it, and a child who remarks upon
the meals set before him, however simple the remark
may be, instantly feels his disgrace in the sharpest
reproof from his parents. It is one of the unforgivable
third subject is to master the tricks of food-getting.
His father, or more often his grandfather, takes [Page
124] him in hand at an early age, and minutely
trains him in all the art and artifice of the great
life-fight for food both for himself and for those who
may in later years be dependent on him. He is drilled
assiduously in hunting, fishing, trapping, in game calls,
in wood and water lore; he learns to paddle with stealth,
to step in silence, to conceal himself from the scent
and sight of bird and beast, to be swift as a deer,
keen as an eagle, alert as a fox.
is admonished under no conditions, save in that of extreme
hunger or in self-defense, to kill mating game, or,
in fact, to kill at all save for food or to obtain furs
for couch purposes. Wanton slaying of wild things is
unknown among the uncivilized Red Indians. When they
want occupation in sport or renown, they take the warpath
against their fellow-kind, where killing will flaunt
another eagle-feather in their crest, not simply another
pair of antlers to decorate their tepee.
With this indispensable lesson
in the essentials of living always comes the scarcely
less momentous one of utter unimportance of youth. He
is untiringly disciplined in the veneration of age,
whether it be in man or woman. He must listen with rapt
attention to the opinions and advice of the older men.
He must keep an absolute silence while they speak, must
ever watch for opportunities to pay them deference.
he happens, fortunately, to be the son of a chief of
ancient lineage, the fact that he is of blood royal
will not excuse him entering a door before some aged
“commoner.” Age has more honor than all
his patrician line of descent can give him. Those lowly
born but richly endowed with years must walk before
him; he is not permitted to remain seated if some old
employee is standing even at work; his privilege of
birth is as nothing compared with the honor of age,
even in his father’s hireling. [Page 125]
fourth thing he must master is the thorough knowledge
of medicinal roots and herbs—antidotes for snake-bite
and poison—also the various charms and the elementary
“science” of the medicine man, though the
occupation of the latter must be inherited, and made
in itself a life study. With this branch of drilling
also is inculcated the precept of etiquette never to
speak of or act slightingly of another’s opinion,
and never to say the word “No,” which he
is taught to regard as a rude refusal. He may convey
it by manner or action, but speak it—never.
And during the years he is absorbing
this education he is unceasingly instructed in every
branch of warfare, of canoe-making, of fashioning arrows,
paddles and snow-shoes. He studies the sign language,
the history and legends of his nation; he familiarizes
himself with the “archives” of wampum belts,
learning to read them and to value the great treaties
they sealed. He excels in the national sports of “lacrosse,”
“bowl and beans,” and “snow snake,”
and when, finally, he goes forth to face his forest
world he is equipped to obtain his own living with wisdom
and skill, and starts life a brave, capable, well-educated
gentleman, though some yet call him an uncivilized savage.