Charles Eastman made great strides to bridge the gap between the Native Americans and the white man. Born a Santee Sioux, Eastman excelled in his assimilated life, thereby gaining the respect of the white man, which he used to assist the Native American. He was able to give a voice to the culture and its people, which was quickly being silenced by a Eurocentric government. Eastman exemplified the abilities of the Native American through his accomplishments as an author, lecturer, physician, and activist. His capacity to live between two diverse cultures furthered his unprecedented endeavors.
Charles Alexander Eastman was born Ohiyesa, a Santee Sioux. He is believed to have been born near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, on February 19, 1858. His paternal grandmother, Uncheedah, was responsible for his upbringing after his mother’s death due to complications during childbirth. Uncheedah presented him with tradition Sioux teachings. Following the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862, Ohiyesa and other Santee Sioux were exiled to Manitoba. In Eastman’s Indian Boyhood, he fondly recalls these times of living freely and peacefully by saying, “What boy would not be an Indian for a while when he thinks of the freest life in the world?”
Ohiyesa’s father, Jacob “Many Lightnings” Eastman was instrumental in his assimilation into the white man’s culture, beginning with his education. Unlike many other Native American children in boarding schools, Charles learned to read and write in his native language. This progressive program of learning was often criticized because of the fear felt among American settlers after the Great Sioux Uprising. The settlers, as well as the government agencies, sought only acculturation of the Indians into the white culture, and disregarding their own completely.
Eastman attended the Santec Indian School located in Nebraska, Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, Dartmouth College, medical school at Boston University and was the physician at the Pine Ridge Reservation at the time of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Eastman played many roles in his life: government employee, physician, lecturer, and author. The latter has generated much respect, as well as criticism. He wrote several articles and books elucidating Native American culture to readers while reasoning for increased respect and equal treatment.
Although an accomplished writer for reformation, Charles Alexander Eastman’s writings in children’s literature have provided youth with a more accurate portrayal of the Native American and their culture. Ohiyesa was born about 150 miles south of St. Paul, Minnesota, as was a little girl named Laura Ingalls. Both children became writers, but their stories were drastically different. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House on the Prairie series, essentially denied and belittled Indians, whereas Eastman records and civilize the experiences of the Dakotas.
Many aspects of Eastman’s writings point...