Why did Saknis want Attean to learn how to read? 

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In the Sign of the Beaver, white settlers are beginning to encroach on indigenous people's territory in the area which the U.S. settler state has called "Maine". As the world of whiteness begins to invade the lives of Saknis and Attean—a grandfather and grandson duo of the Penobscot tribe—Saknis knows his grandson must learn some of the ways of the white world if he is to survive the invasion. If Attean can read, he and his tribe will not be tricked into signing treaties that give up their lands and hunting grounds. Saknis explains to Attean why he must learn to read English by saying,

White man come more and more to Indian land. White man not make treaty with pipe. White man make signs on paper, signs Indian not know. Indian put mark on paper to show him friend of white man. Then white man take land. Tell Indian cannot hunt on land. Attean learn to read white man's signs. Attean not give away hunting grounds.

Saknis knows that the youth of his tribe must be able to hold onto their traditional language and culture while being able to navigate the white world that is being imposed upon them.

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Saknis was a wise man who knew that the coming of the white man meant the end of the Beaver clan's life as it had been. More and more settlers would wipe out the game needed for the village's survival. If Attean could read, when the white man made a treaty with the Beaver clan, he could understand the words and avoid signing a document that would harm his people in the long run. The native American way of life was so altered by the coming of the white settlers that adapting by learning the ways of the whites was the only way to continue their culture.

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