Between Earth and Sky by Amanda Skenandore
Between Earth and Sky begins in 1906 in Philadelphia with Alma Mitchell sitting in her parlor reading an article in the local paper about an Indian man facing the gallows for the murder of a federal agent. Her father ran the Stover School for Indians in Wisconsin, which was created after the Indian Wars in 1881. The man facing the gallows is Harry Muskrat, who was a student at the school for nine years until he graduated with honors and left to attend Brown University. He and Alma were close friends, and for this reason Alma convinces her lawyer husband Stewart to defend him even though Stewart is a patent attorney with no experience as a trial lawyer. They make the journey to Minnesota to begin the investigation. As it progresses, the reader learns about Alma’s life at the school: her relationships with her fellow students who are all lndians of various tribes, their education, and how her attitude toward the harsh treatment of the Indians differs from her parents’. In addition, she has a painful secret that she realizes she must reveal to husband which could threaten their marriage. Harry’s case is a difficult one as there are no eyewitnesses and much circumstantial evidence. Harry himself is unhelpful as well. We learn that despite his successful education he is accepted into neither the white man’s world nor the Indian world, and for this reason, he is resentful to the point of refusing the Mitchells’ help.
Skenandore did a good job in describing the struggles of those American Indians who attended schools like this and whose lives were shattered in the attempt to assimilate them into a different world. This story was inspired by a real-life experience of a Lakota man who shot and killed a US Army Lieutenant in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre. During his trial, he explained that his time at the Carlisle School and his desire to be reunified with his people were the impetus for the crime. He was acquitted. Skenandore also has a close relative who is a member of the Ojibwe Tribe and survived an Indian mission school.