Willie catapulted to stardom in Andrew’s book as “the greatest thing on earth.” Billy never forgot the story. “I always remember that because that was the kind of guy Dad was. He took care of those kids as if they were his own.”
From the start, the smiley, chubby-cheeked boy adored his big sister Maiselle, who became a second mother. Maiselle too had spent time at Mud Bay. She lived there for seven years watching her grandmother, Louisa Tobin, weave cedar root baskets—masterpieces of beauty—and cook for religious conventions of the Shakers. Louisa died the year Billy was born, however, and Maiselle moved home to the Landing.
When Billy was eight, Maiselle boarded the bus for Chemawa Indian School, the nation’s oldest continuously operating boarding school. The separation devastated Billy, and Maiselle never forgot their goodbye. “Billy just stood there screaming and crying at the top of his lungs,” says Tom Keefe, a family friend. “Maiselle felt so guilty all the way down there and every day she was at that school. I remember her recalling that image frozen in her memory, all the way to Oregon. She couldn’t stop crying, because she just saw Billy’s face. . . . To this day, the dynamic between the two of them is very loving. Maiselle is definitely the big sister/surrogate mom in his life.”
“We missed each other,” Billy recalls. “She was going off to school at Chemawa, which in them days was a long ways away, clear in Salem. I never dreamed of even going to Salem, Oregon.” But school has always meant something to Maiselle, Billy says.
In 1939, enrollment at Chemawa was down from its onetime peak of a thousand students in 1926, but it was a fully accredited high school. Like all Native American students, Maiselle was scrutinized upon her arrival from the top of her head to the soles of her feet. “I recommend enrollment and suggest the following: Home Management, Industrial Art, and Music,” the administrators concluded at placement.
Maiselle’s brothers, Andrew and Don, joined her. In fact, according to Don’s daughter, Nancy Shippentower-Games, Maiselle and Don ran away. They dodged cars on the long trek home only to be promptly returned to Chemawa by their disapproving mother, Angie. “She wanted them to have an education,” Shippentower-Games says.
One year, Maiselle brought a classmate to the Landing, and for brother Sonny the rest was history. “Edith came home with her on Christmas vacation and that’s when her and my brother met. They’ve been married sixty or seventy years now,” Billy says with a chuckle.
Despite the happy outcome for her brother and her friend, Maiselle hated Chemawa, says Carol Burns, a documentary filmmaker. “The girls were only trained to be domestic servants and they functioned as domestic servants.”
For some Natives, boarding school was a positive experience and offered electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing for the first time. For others, however, like Willie and Maiselle, the boarding-school experience was miserable. Willie and Maiselle weren’t alone in their bitterness.
On the 175th anniversary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Kevin Gover, assistant secretary, offered an apology for the bia policy designed to “destroy all things Indian” at America’s boarding schools. He apologized for “brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually . . . never again will we seize your children. . . . Never again.”
Despite Maiselle’s unhappiness at Chemawa, the years in Oregon planted a seed. One day, she would dedicate the rest of her life to the education of Indian children.