How does The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian relate to U.S. History? 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The talk between Mr. P and Junior is a reminder of how The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian relates to American History.

Frustrated with what he saw as limitations placed upon him, Junior hits Mr. P wth a textbook.  The teacher visits the student, and their conversation reveals much.  In the course of their conversation, Mr. P reminds Junior that he has talent and can do great things. However, in order to do so, he will have to leave the setting of emotional decay that has become the reservation.  Mr. P tells Junior that as a younger teacher on the reservation, he did things to Native American children that contributed to the very decay he wants Junior to transcend: "When I first started teaching here, that's what we did to the rowdy ones, you know? We beat them. That's how we were taught to teach you. We were supposed to kill the Indian to save the child."  When Junior asks about this, Mr. P says that their job as White teachers was to "kill Indian culture."  They wanted to make sure Native Americans like Junior surrendered their identity:  "We were supposed to make you give up being Indian. Your songs and stories and language and dancing. Everything."  As a result of his conversation with Mr. P,  Junior spends much of the novel fighting mightily to establish his identity. 

The struggle for identity is something that many Native Americans experience.  When Mr. P confesses what he had done to Native American children, it is a reminder that the narrative of America involves some awful things done to Native Americans. Some of it involves seeking to force people to give up "what it meant to be Indian." The novel relates to American History because Junior is trying to go against the current.  He is trying to be a "bright and shining star."  Seeing Junior's struggles and eventual success in his quest is a mournful reminder that so many Native Americans could not experience the same in the course of U.S. History.   

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