Road to Healing: Native American communities speak out on past abuse

WWMT-TV [Kalamazoo MI]

August 13, 2022

By Josh Kurman

EMMET COUNTY, Mich. (WPBN/WGTU) — Hundreds of people gathered at Pellston Public Schools Saturday for the Road to Healing.

The Department of Interior (DOI) launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to bring awareness to the trauma that Indigenous people endure as a direct result of boarding schools.

The investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states or then territories, including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii.

The investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the school system. As the investigation continues, the Department expects the number of identified burial sites to increase.

The Road to Healing Tour, a series of listening sessions, is an integral step in the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to hear from survivors and their descendants about their experiences.

Pellston was the second stop on a multi-year tour to begin healing in Tribal communities across the country.

The first was in Anadarko, Oklahoma, in July.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland opened today’s event, saying, “It’s an honor to join you all on the ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabe people. I’ll speak briefly, but the reason I’m here today is really, to listen to all of you, and we will stay as long as it takes, so thank you for being here.”

The program is part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which Haaland began in 2021.

The Department of the Interior found that from 1819 to 1969, 408 boarding schools existed across America, with five of them in Michigan, including one in Harbor Springs.

For some community members, this was their first time back in the area in decades.

As part of the event, people spoke about their experiences within the system.

“I’m 78 years old and I am still going through that trauma,” said one attendee.

“And, upon her graduation, the priest struck her in the mouth and broke her jaw in such a way, that every 10 years, she has to go back and have her jaw reset because it grows back crooked. So she said every ten years, I’m reminded of Holy Childhood,” one attendee explained.

Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic Church and Indian School was a boarding school located in Harbor Springs.

It was one of the longest operated in Michigan, from 1829 to 1983.

The impact it had on tribal communities continues to be felt.

“I left the school thinking that I was a sinner. And then I met my partner a few years after that, and then I realized I was a Native American,” said one former student.

The event also provided counseling opportunities for survivors and family members.

The Department of the Interior has released its first of multiple reports detailing the conditions they say children faced and the consequences the boarding school program had on native communities.

More stops are planned this year, including stops in Hawaii, Arizona, and South Dakota.