Found alive after the massacre at Wounded Knee, twelve-year-old John Iron Horse is determined not to end up like so many others of his people. Then he learns the motto of the school he's required to attend: "Kill the Indian, save the man."
Carter Heath teaches in the government-run educational system and knows there's more to his position than what's happening in his classroom. He'll soon learn that, in bureaucracy, politics, money, and ulterior motives are always intertwined.
Can the bond between an extraordinary student and a dedicated teacher survive in a world that pits red man against white?
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I have a BS in Animal Science, with a minor in Wildlife Biology ('78) and a Master's in Agricultural Education, with a concentration in Therapeutic riding ('06), both from Clemson University. After teaching 31 years in middle school science, high school food science and livestock production, I retired to help my husband on our family's cattle farm. I've had a lifelong interest in horses, Indigenous culture and teaching.
Today, we live on the family farm, raising Angus cattle. I spend my spare time caring for seven horses, a three-legged dog and lots of barn cats. I collect Pine Ridge Pottery, ledger art and turquoise jewelry, and I hope to write another historical novel soon - or, maybe a modern story about life on the family farm. www.jstanion.com
My Place Among Them by J. Stanion is a beautiful story of resilience and more as it follows the path of John Iron Horse. At twelve years old, John survives the massacre that occurred at Wounded Knee. John is thrown into a new world and a new system and part of that includes the government-run schools that indigenous tribes were forced to send their children to. The school motto “Kill the Indian, save the man” sums up the experiences John can expect at his new school. Despite the adversity that John faces, he excels as a student and catches the attention of teacher Carter Heath. The two slowly build a bond that will be tested by government bureaucracy and politics. This tale is one that will move readers and it is enhanced with the inclusion of pictures from the author’s family.
“I realized the massacre would forever change the lives of the Lakota people. What I didn’t know until later was that it would bring into our lives one of the most remarkable young men I had ever known—a young man whose blood kin had been erased, whose memories of the past would be haunted, yet who would become my ideal of a student, a model of civility, and eventually a spokesman for humanity as our leaders worked to erase the very foundations of his native culture.”
One of the most interesting things about My Place Among Them is the origin of the story. According to the note at the beginning of the book, this novel is based on the experiences and stories written by his great-grandfather. In addition to his great-grandfather’s story, it is clear that J. Stanion also did immense research to supplement the story. His research gave him a deep understanding and respect for the Lakota people and their traditions and it is evident throughout his book.
“Many elders carried scars from the skewers that had pierced the skin of their chests when they sacrificed for healing and blessings for their family in the Sun Dance. The government had outlawed the Sun Dance, but the agents could do nothing when the Indians appeared to be celebrating the birthday of an ever-expanding nation.”
While the basis of the story comes from a unique place, another aspect that makes this book interesting and will draw readers is the setting and historical events referenced in the story. The Battle of Wounded Knee and its long-term aftermath in the lives of different individuals is not a typical foundation for a historical fiction novel. Those with an interest in indigenous history will appreciate this book.
“John saw no way to improve the lives of the Indians living on Potato Creek. The teachers never discussed opportunities for selling the items they made or how they would be useful for farming or ranching on the reservation. Everything focused entirely on being successful at the school. It seemed the teachers’ only goal was to erase his memories of the Indian ways.”
The prose in My Place Among Them is well done. While it is not laced with flowery language and extensive metaphors or imagery, it is well-constructed and easy to read. Readers will find that it is easy to understand and the style of writing combined with the plot line creates excellent pacing.
“All across the Western territories, government agents had worked to ensure the Indians believed in the benefits of the white man’s ways. Some convinced Indians that they wouldn’t have lost their lands had they been able to read the treaties their leaders signed. Some persuaded parents to send their children, no matter their age, to off-reservation schools, telling them that bigger schools provided greater opportunities for food and jobs. Some threatened parents with the loss of government provisions if they didn’t send their children to school. The worst believed that Indians were simply too primitive, giving the government not just a reason but a right to remove their children, forcibly if necessary. Regardless of the reason, Indian children were sent away to schools where they succumbed to disease and depression, many never to be heard from again.”
The intended audience for My Place Among Them is those readers who enjoy historical fiction focused on indigenous peoples. Those with an interest in social justice will find this book interesting. This book looks closely at the wrongs that many indigenous people may have suffered at the hands of white bureaucracy. It is certainly difficult to address but Stanion does so in a way that makes the reader feel as though it is getting the recognition and acknowledgment that it should receive in an honest way. Many readers may find parts of the story emotional and Stanion portrays those emotions perfectly.
“At first John didn’t comprehend the contents of the letter, but as he finished reading, it all came to him in one surge that gripped his heart with intense, convulsive pain. Although his face didn’t betray the intensity of his emotion to Stella, who had remained beside him, it was clear to her that he’d been cast into the very depths of sorrow. He made his way stoically out of the house without a word or sound.”
The beautiful story told within My Place Among Them combined with the in-depth research and beautiful prose of the author earns this book a five out of five rating. It is incredibly well done and Stanion has no doubt created a touching novel that did his great-grandfather and indigenous history justice. Readers of all walks, not just those who enjoy historical fiction, will find My Place Among Them to be a worthwhile read.
“My Place Among Them” J. Stanion receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company
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