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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 6, 2001 - Issue 46


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Speaker Shares Life Story with Students


 by John Booth Warren Tribune Chronicle-September 29, 2001


art Greeting the Earth by Leland Bell

LORDSTOWN-OH - When Don Bartlette was born, his mother later told him, a doctor took one look at the Native American boy's severe cleft palate and facial deformity and whispered to the woman, ''You must not let him live.''

For the fourth time, Bartlette, 61, shared his story about a childhood of abuse, neglect and poverty with students at Lordstown High School.

''People used to laugh at me, people used to hurt me, people used to hate me because I was different,'' said Bartlette, who grew up on a Chippewa Indian reservation near Walhalla, N.D.

He said he endured rejection and abuse at the hands of his father, and recalled scrounging for food in a garbage dump outside of town. There, he also found clothes and comic books and newspapers, which instilled a desire to read.

His mother took him to the public school in Walhalla, where teachers refused to instruct the Native American child who could not even speak, and where classmates tied him to a tree, pummeled him with their fists and left him.

Yet, inadvertently, one of the same classmates connected Bartlette with his benefactor.

A girl in the school told her mother, Beulah Barta, about the boy they all made fun of.

And Beulah Barta - ''the white woman,'' Barlette noted with wonder - changed his life.

She took him into her home, fed, bathed and taught him.

''I didn't know the difference between the H and the C on the shower,'' Bartlette recalled. ''But I learned very quickly,'' he added with a laugh, sending chuckles through the students.

By spending time with him by listening to the radio and having him imitate the voices emanating from it, ''she taught me how to turn my gargled sounds into elementary speech,'' Bartlette said.

When Bartlette was 17 years old, Barta helped pay for the first of more than a dozen reconstructive surgeries to reshape his face, nose and cleft palate.

And when Bartlette entered high school, Barta approached Merlin Larson, a popular athlete, and asked him to befriend Bartlette.

Larson could have ignored her, Bartlette said, but ''he never gave in to peer pressure, and he remained my friend through high school. He lost a lot of friends.''

Bartlette said he remains in touch with Larson, now an insurance executive in Minnesota, and Barta, now 87, who lives in a retirement home in North Dakota.

''I want the whole world to know what can happen when one person helps a child like me,'' Bartlette said. ''You can have that impact on another student who might be different.''

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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