Native American Deaf Child Case Study by Sharon Baker, Ed.D., University of Tulsa, OK
Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma http://www.sacandfoxnation-nsn.gov/
History of the Sac and Fox
The Sac (or Sauk) and Fox began as two distinct groups of Algonquin-speaking people near the
St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada and during the 1600s migrated to southeastern Michigan. The
Sauk were called “People of the Yellow Earth” and the Fox were called “People of the Red
Earth”. During the 1700s, French attacks on the Fox caused the two groups to join forces and
form a close alliance, which ended in unification of the tribes. Following several treaties the Sac
and Fox nation settled in other areas: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. In 1869 they wer
relocated to Oklahoma where they were given a 750,000 acre reservation in Potawatomi,
Lincoln, and Payne Counties east of Oklahoma City. After allotment, most of this was released
to whites in 1891. Currently, the Sac and Fox Nation of Oklahoma, headquartered in Stroud, has
kept less than 1,000 acres.
Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma http://www.pawneenation.org/
The Pawnee, a North American Plains Indian tribe who lived on the Platte River, Nebraska,
from before the 16th century to the latter part of the 19th century, were originally of the Caddoan
family. Under three treaties with the United States 1833, 1843, and 1857 - the Pawnee ceded all
of their lands to the United States Government except a reservation 10 miles wide by 30 miles
long along the Loup River in Nebraska. This reservation was sold, and in 1876 the Pawnee
Nation was relocated to its present day location in central Oklahoma. By 1893, individual
allotments of 60 acres had been made to 821 tribal members. The remaining lands, 169,320 acres
were opened up for white settlement. As one of a number of smaller tribes forcibly removed
from its traditional homelands and relocated to Oklahoma in the late nineteenth century, the
Pawnee Nation borders many other Indian Nations in the area.
The Oklahoma School for the Deaf http://www.osd.k12.ok.us/
Established in 1908 (one year after statehood) in Sulphur, Oklahoma
Located in a rural area in south central Oklahoma
During 1994 and 1995 while studying for my doctorate from Oklahoma State University, I
worked as an Outreach Consultant for the Oklahoma School for the Deaf. I quickly found that
my work did not take me to major cities. Instead I worked mostly in rural areas that included
tribal jurisdictions. The outreach position involved working with schools as well as families
many of whom were extended family members raising the deaf or hard of hearing child in the
absence of the natural parents.
While in the position I conducted a study of Native American mothers of deaf children to
determine whether they experienced the same grieving process as European-American mothers.
Limited descriptions of mothers of children with disabilities belonging to southwestern tribes
(e.g., Navajo) stated that mothers didn’t experience the same grieving process because in their
culture they believed it to be fate or destiny and not a reflection of the individual mother or child.
Thus the child was accepted for whom he/she was. So I began this study with very limited
information. I knew that there were differences among tribes; each tribe had a unique language
and culture, and these differences became more apparent as I worked directly with the tribal
members. Tribes vary in the extent to which historically they assimilated into European, English
dominant culture. For example, the Cherokee began assimilating in the 1600s and by relocation
to Indian Territory many members were white men because they had married Cherokee women.
Today 75% of the members of the Cherokee Nation are less than one quarter Cherokee.
Compare that to western Oklahoma tribes (e.g., Kiowa, Comanche) that, although they have
intermarried with other races, have maintained the majority of their citizens’ blood quantum.
After interviewing 15 mothers representing different tribal affiliations the results indicated that
regardless of the tribe, mothers and grandmothers grieved and went through similar grieving
processes as do mothers of European origin. Families of western tribes with long histories of
using Indian Sign Language communicated with their children at an early age, while families of
deaf or hard of hearing children of tribes without a history of Indian Sign Language (eastern
tribes that were relocated in the 1800s to Oklahoma) and with greater levels of assimilation had
limited communication with their children and grieved much longer.
While conducting this study I usually identified a child while working at a school, and then I
would follow up with the family as ask permission to interview the mother. Most Native
American families live in their tribal areas because of access to health care and other social
services. They can not access health care across tribal jurisdictions, thus mobility is severely
hampered. On one occasion I had been working at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf and began
an informal census of the number of Native American children attending the school. Out of 125
total enrollment, I found about 15% were Native American. The school gave me a list of names
and addresses and I noticed that one family lived near the school. I made an appointment to
interview the mother, who was eager to participate.
When I arrived at her home I was quite surprised to find a full-blood quantum Pawnee mother
with six children, two of whom had hearing loss: one deaf and one hard of hearing. She
explained that her husband was full-blood Sac and Fox and they had moved from their tribal
jurisdiction to better their lives and to escape rampant alcoholism among family members. She
was quite articulate even though she had not completed
high school. Her husband was attending a local college,
majoring in computer science. Native American families
tend to raise children communally; grandmothers as well
as maternal aunts play a large role in childcare, so leaving
their community was a sacrifice. As she told their story I
came to admire the efforts they had made to improve
their lives, to give their children an education, and the
courage it took for them to leave their extended family
(This picture found on the Internet resembles the child in this story.)
As the interview concluded I could hear school buses in the next block, indicating that school
was out. In a few minutes her deaf daughter, a first grader at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf,
ran into the living room. The young girl was proudly wearing her paper Pilgrim’s hat and collar.
The mother and I looked at each other with disbelief, then she proceeded to explain to her child
why she should be dressed as an American Indian. Fortunately, the mother had taken several
sign language classes and communicated well with her daughter as she explained about the first