Stealing Indians by John Smelcer is unapologetically grim, and this is a good thing. This story chronicles a very sad social experiment in American history: For nearly 100 years the Federal government sponsored a program of education that removed, sometimes forcibly, young Native-American children from their homes and families, often for years.
The story follows four youngsters from different tribes who travel many days on buses and trains with little or no food, drink or information to one of these so-called Indian schools. The three boys and one girl form a strong bond of friendship that proves to be steadfast. Whether they are searching in the middle of the night for Lucy, who jumps out a window to avoid a male predator, or providing food for Sammy through a loose brick in the wall while he is chained to a radiator as punishment for speaking Navajo, they always have each other’s backs.
The book covers the eradication of the children’s Native-American heritage through the cutting of hair and forbidding native language, ceremonies and stories. The scenes are not overly graphic, thus giving a glimpse into this sorry chapter of history that is appropriate for the targeted audience.
While the events of Stealing Indians are often disturbing, the young characters support each other's indomitable spirits and share stolen moments of freedom and defiance.