Susanna Hayes self-published her book, ‘Bury The Victims,’ about her experiences with Native Americans in the country’s Southwest.
By Katrina Margolis
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Many native New Englanders have a difficult time understanding other parts of the country, especially the ethnographic aspects. The concept of wide open spaces is hard to grasp when your neighbor lives less than 12 feet away from you. However, Susanna Hayes, born and raised in Michigan, and a Western United States native until just recently, has explored many aspects of that side of the country, particularly focusing on the Native people. Hayes moved to Needham in June after having self-published a book titled “Bury The Victims.” A retired psychology professor from Western Washington University, Hayes is as sharp, quick-witted, and poised at 74 as we all can hope to be.
Hayes has spent a significant amount of time on Native America reservations. “As I say in the forward to the book, the only thing I knew about Native Americans was from movies and the distortions of movies about native people,” she explained. She recalled one instance in which a fifth grade classmate informed the class that she was Chippewa. “She let us know that we had come and were on her tribe’s land. Well, that kind of started me thinking about things like, ‘What is like to be Chippewa? How does she feel being the only person who is claiming to be native in this group of students?’” After finishing her undergraduate degree in 1964, Hayes knew she wanted to go to graduate school, but she wasn’t sure for what. “I thought, ‘I’ll take a year off,’ and I heard about Native Americans in the west and that kind of piqued my curiosity, so I went west.”
After working on a reservation in a boarding school for four years, Hayes returned to school. However, her interest in Native American culture never swayed. After being a teacher, her work focused significantly on education on reservations. “I thought, these kids are so smart. Why are they dropping out of school at eighth or ninth grade?” Hayes asked. What she found was that they simply did not want to go to school. Due to the nature of forced Christian education, many Native people felt that they were forced to become assimilated into American culture. Not wanting this, many turned away from education.
One of the featured stories in Hayes’ book has to do with the corruption within the schools on reservations. The headmaster of the boarding school, a priest, was found to be a sexual-abuser of children, something that the community he taught in before knew before he was re-assigned. Once the Native population found out about this, they took over the school to make it their own. The title of the book comes from this. “The title comes from the idea that we aren’t going to acknowledge that there are victims, we’ll hide them away,” Hayes explained. “From the perspective of the people, they do not want to be victims. They want to be their own people, and they are making moves to be their own people.”
Hayes’ book brings considerable light to many of the situations facing Native Americans. However, there is still much to be done. “I wanted to give people a little bit of a sense of who are contemporary Native Americans, what are they like?” she said. “So many of us are so far away from those people and have no idea of how they live, how they talk. What are their goals? How do their families work?” Hayes beautifully accomplishes this, allowing us to see into a world not many are able to.