If you don’t know, Native boarding schools still exist, although not like those of old. And one of the most memorable times I went to a boarding school was when I was 16 years old. My friends’ band was playing a concert in the Spring of 2002 for the students at Sherman Indian high school in Riverside, CA. I normally didn’t play with the band, but they needed an extra guitar player at the time. So I went. It was fairly calm. I remember walking on campus, I saw some kids my age studying studiously, some kids playing ping pong, some other kids snagging under a blanket in the grass area, and some other kids playing basketball with hickies. It seemed like a cool place to be. The show went well, we met some kids, and then our host took us on a tour. The tour was rather dull, but whatever. I was 16, and there were Native girls all around. So like I said, it was a cool place to be. Well we were nearing the end of the tour and they were going to give us sandwiches in the kitchen and send us on our way.
We walked up to this old brick cafeteria, trying to avoid breathing in the asbestos. Looking back, and just judging by the state of the infrastructure, the school was underfunded. To the point that it felt like you could get hepatitis C from touching the walls. This place was old. Anyways, we’re about to walk into the cafeteria and of course one of the doors was broke. It meant there was only one way in, and one way out. All of my buddies were in college, and I was the youngest, so I walked in the middle of the pack. When it was my turn to cross the threshold into the rundown cafeteria, this Native girl was coming out from eating lunch. She had on a green t-shirt and was with a bunch of other Native girls all wearing green t-shirts (someone told me the green t-shirts meant they were on discipline, but I’m not sure). But I didn’t know what the green shirts meant, but they were walking and talking loudly. At the time I was extremely shy, and as I tried to pass through the threshold, that pretty/ scary Native girl with corn rolls wearing a green t-shirt, stepped to my face. She stood in the doorway squarely looking at my eyes, and in a deeper tone than what I can even speak now as a man, said, “WHAT’S YO NAME?????!!!!!”
I was extremely intimidated, and bashful. I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I looked in front of me, and my bros looked confused. And I looked behind me and my other bros shrugged their shoulders without any counsel. I looked back at the girl for a second, because it was all I could muster to do, and looked down quickly in what felt like fear of my life. And I pushed myself against the wall, taking chances at getting Hep C, and tried to squeeze past her. It didn’t work, she stepped in front of me again, and I wasn’t about to risk getting worked over in front of the school. So, in a quiet voice I gently responded, “J.D.” In that same deep tone she said, “ALRIGHT,” and some other things I can’t remember. She moved through the threshold first, and since then, I have never lived that moment down.
And now, every couple of years or so, I’ll get a message from my bros that reads, “WHAT’S YO NAME!!!!???” And it adds to these reasons why I can never forget about boarding schools.