Rod McAfee

Lesson 1 – The Orphan: Lost and Confused


Understand how deprivation and separation can reduce one’s ability to adapt and thrive in a dynamic world.


This activity will help you rekindle a lasting and personal connection with family and friends through stories, pictures, and memories.

The Orphan

The orphan describes the feeling of being alone and of being in a place that causes you to feel isolated from others; feeling singly challenged and even feeling overwhelmed at times by the work facing you.

Acceptance and Resignation

“It was all we knew….it was a little life.”

Listen to Rod McAfee’s interview.  He speaks of physical separation from other families on the reservation as well as emotional/psychological separation from members of his own family and other nurturing influences.  His father’s employment kept him away from the reservation for long periods, and Rod felt he had little in common with his brothers due to his lack of education.

Rod’s physical disconnection from reservation life is symbolic of the Orphan.  He mentions that some families had access to electricity, but those living on his end of the reservation did not.  His family home was also cut off from the water that ran through a reservation canal.

The sense of being alienated from his cultural heritage is critical to Rod’s perception of himself and his peers.  His grandfather and father stopped telling stories of the early times, presumably because these stories lacked relevance to the current day.  Because of her religious beliefs, Rod’s mother objected to his learning traditional dances and other cultural ways.  As a result, Rod felt that he, along with other young people, were deprived of “knowing who they were.”  Not hearing the stories about the “old ways” represented a loss of traditional wisdom and important cultural grounding.  Consequently, Rod lacked a sense of “belonging.”


“There was a lot of disruption in the Native Beliefs, so there was for me, confusion.”

Rod describes himself as a “loner.”  Attending a boarding school off the reservation and separation from his family created a powerful sense of loss and confusion.

“Well, it was just like they were sending me to the end of the world.”

At boarding school, Rod was punished by a slap in the face for speaking his Native tongue.  Although he still speaks his language, he acknowledges that he has forgotten many words.  Not being allowed to speak his language was a denial of his Native identity and symbolized further isolation from his authentic self.

“I was really homesick because I couldn’t make friends because they were buying into the education (i.e., non-traditional ways).”

Create/Share a Sense of Identity and Belonging

Each of us houses a collection of memories.  Things we have experienced may be remembered as commonplace and routine, others dramatic and eventful.  Passing along one’s heritage gives family and friends the privilege of exploring the meaningful and mundane aspects of your life.  It gives children and grandchildren the opportunity to know where they came from and gain an understanding of their past through your eyes and words.

Sharing stories is a way of connecting with people.  Relating something about yourself to another person gives depth and dimension to your own experiences.  Learning about someone else’s history allows you to see life through a different lens.  It is a path to discovery, both of oneself and of others.

Rod shares stories about his early life on the reservation.  If you were sharing stories about yourself, what kinds of information would you reveal about your family history and heritage?  What would you like others to know about your life as a child and as an adult?

Tell about yourself.  Here are some sample questions to consider.  What are other ideas you might share?

  • Where were you born?  Where did you grow up?
  • Did you have brothers and sisters? Were they older or younger?  How did you get along with them?
  • Who were your favorite teachers?
  • What is your favorite childhood memory?
  • What is your favorite food?  Share the recipe.
  • What was it like to go to boarding school?
  • Tell a favorite story from your past.

Rod’s interview is an oral history.  It gives an insight into what it was like to live at a particular time and in a particular place.  It helps people create a picture of that experience and preserve it for sharing with others.

Ask questions of elders in your family, tribe or community.  Don’t limit your questions to “just the facts”–ask about the things that make your grandparents and other elders “real people.”  Focus “how” and “why” questions.  Ask for examples to make their stories “come to life.”

Enlist the help of others to create a scrapbook featuring a family member or tribal elder.

Next Lesson