- By Native News Online Staff
CARLISLE, Penn. — Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, traveled to the U.S. Army War College to address the Opening Ceremony of the Jim Thorpe Sports Days and raise awareness of the historical trauma caused by assimilation boarding schools.
The U.S. Army War College is the former home of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School from 1880 to 1919. Jim Thorpe Sports Days, sponsored by the Army War College, celebrates the athleticism, teamwork and excellence of Jim Thorpe, who was also a member of the Sac and Fox Nation and was sent to attend Carlisle Indian Industrial School as a child. Thorpe went on to become an Olympic Gold Medalist and professional athlete.
During her time at the U.S. Army War College, Haaland also engaged with the senior officers who complete a graduate degree while studying at the nation's war colleges, toured the historic Indian School collections at our Army Heritage & Education Center.
Below are Congresswoman Haaland’s remarks as prepared for the Opening Ceremony of Jim Thorpe Sports Days:
Hello everyone and thank you so much for your warm welcome!
I am honored to have been invited to speak today at the Jim Thorpe Sports Days on Carlisle Barracks’ Indian field.
This occasion has great historic and personal importance to me because I grew up in a military family—my mother is a Navy veteran and my father served in the United States Marine Corps for 30 years, awarded 2 Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and he lies in rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I have a strong understanding and deeply appreciate the sacrifices that each of you make to serve our country. It is one of the greatest contributions that anyone can make to the United States, and I respect your dedication and appreciate your service.
I am also honored to be here today as a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and one of the first Native American women to be elected to Congress in over 200 years along with my friend Sharice Davids who is a member of the Ho Chunk Nation.
During my first four months in Congress, I have come to realize how important representation is for any group of people. This is because without representation, one’s story cannot be told.
We are gathered here today to honor the legendary accomplishments of Jim Thorpe who is regarded as the “greatest male athlete of the Half Century,” not only for his professional baseball, football, and track career but as the first man to win both the decathlon and pentathlon at the Olympic Games.
Although he has been regarded by many for his athletic excellence and achievements, his gold medals were revoked on a technicality for playing semi-pro baseball. After this, his historic victories on behalf of the United States at the 1912 Olympic Games were removed from the official record and never reinstated to date.
This is the narrative that is commonly told about him. However, he has another story that I would like to tell you about him and who he was:
Jim Thorpe was a member of the Sac and Fox Nation—a people who were originally from the Lake Huron and Lake Michigan area before they were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma in the 1870s.
Thorpe had a twin brother who died at the age of 9, lost his mother 2 years later, and at 16 became an orphan after the death of his father.
Like many Native American children - like my great grandfather - who also attended Carlisle, and my maternal grandparents, he was sent to Indian boarding school in the hopes of obtaining an education that would serve to assimilate him into mainstream white society, although it’s questionable whether any Indian ever was regarded as such.
What is less known is that education at Indian boarding schools came at a hefty cost for Native Americans.
At the time Jim Thorpe [and my great grandfather] attended Carlisle, the school’s motto was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which reflects the assimilation policies that were in place at the time.
Native Americans have been and continue to be deeply impacted by boarding schools and attempts at assimilation and this past represents a dark history that cannot be ignored.
At young ages, many Native students were stolen from their homes to face corporal punishment and physical abuse for speaking their languages or practicing cultural traditions that didn’t fit into what an “American” citizen was supposed to be.
In spite of this traumatic history, when this country was less than accepting of Native Americans, Jim Thorpe couldn’t ignore the gifts he as being born with and succeeded far beyond what anyone could imagine.
And he continued to succeed even though: the profound loss that he encountered at the death of his family during his childhood relegated him to an upbringing of poverty; racist attitudes of the times could have thrown him off his game; and most egregiously, Congress hadn’t yet granted Native Americans citizenship at the time he won Gold Medals the 1912 Olympic Games on behalf of the United States - that wouldn’t happen until 1924.
Today, we celebrate the legacy of excellence that Jim Thorpe displayed on and off the field. Excellence and representation that never made it officially into the history books.
He is a story of true strength, overcoming obstacles and adversity that should inspire us all to work harder and be proud of where we come from because that is what true greatness is.
Over the next couple of days while each of you work toward winning the Commandant’s Cup, I leave you with a direct quote him.
He stated, “I am no more proud of my career as an athlete than I am of the fact that I am a direct descendant of that noble warrior Chief Black Hawk.”
I believe this is where he derived the strength to become one of the most successful athletes of all time. He never forgot who he was or where he came from, which is a story that I hope that each of carry with you.
I thank everyone here for your continued service to make our country a better place for everyone and I respect you deeply for your efforts.