A boarding school healing ceremony was held in Anchorage, AK, this fall.
The ceremony took part as people from across the state gathered for the 2022 First Alaskans Institute’s Elders and Youth Conference.
Storyteller and cultural bearer Bob Sam from Sitka, opened up the healing event by sharing some history of boarding schools in Southeast Alaska, from the early opening of the Sheldon Jackson School to students who were sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
Sam says it was devastating for students to be stripped of their languages and cultures.
He says some died of a broken heart. He also shared some stories of boarding school survivors talking about the trauma they endured.
Students were often told they were worthless, and many were physically, mentally, and sexually abused.
“I’ve been involved with boarding school issues for a number of years now, primarily I return bodies. I began to listen to the survivors and people who suffered from the trauma of boarding schools and from there I’ve developed a ceremony for healing. Getting comfortable to coming to terms with the issues related to trauma.”
Sam, who works on repatriation efforts, has brought home the remains of many students.
He says that work and his overall research of U.S. Indian boarding schools caused him much trauma.
He spent many years in Japan learning about Japanese culture.
He then returned home to Alaska embracing his Lingít culture. He has since fused both cultures to help him heal from the trauma.
Sam put on his traditional regalia, which he says is part of the healing process, describing each piece from his tunic to an orange apron representing “Every Child Matters,” a robe, and a woven headpiece representing Indigenous boarding school students in Canada.
Sam then told a story about raven and the return of traditional knowledge to the people. He ended the ceremony by having people form two lines. Boarding school survivors then walked down and were given affirmations, handshakes and hugs from each person as Sam sang.
Sam says the healing is for all people, especially for those who survived boarding school and those who died. Work continues to bring students home from Carlisle to tribes across the U.S.
National Native News was given permission to record and share the boarding school healing ceremony.
The Department of Interior is continuing its investigation into U.S. Indian boarding schools.
The agency is traveling across the country gathering testimony.
This fall, a stop was made in South Dakota, as Lee Strubinger reports.
78 year-old Rosalie Quick Bear attended one of the 31 boarding schools located in South Dakota.
The Sicangu Lakota describes being powdered with the pesticide DDT, spending weeks with an untreated broken leg and getting locked in a dark cement cellar for days.
Quick Bear describes her experience like this to her grandkids.
“You see all this horror stuff on TV? Real bad? That’s how we grew up. That why we are like we are.”
Quick Bear says her experience at St. Francis Indian Boarding school still affects her.
“I thought there was no God, just torture and hatred. Sometimes I’m—still to this day—I’m quiet. I’m off away from people. I still can’t really feel that love that we’re supposed to know as human beings.”
Another survivor says every boarding school story is similar.
Cheryl Angel also spoke.
“We were treated inhumanely.”
It’s stories like this the Department of Interior is collecting as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.
The initiative hopes to identify marked and unmarked burial sites across the boarding school system and the total amount of spending and federal support for the schools.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says the tour is one step among many.
“That we will take to strengthen and rebuild the bonds within native communities that the federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break.”
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