Colorado Springs, CO – In the wake of Canada’s and Australia’s recent apologies to first peoples for widespread boarding school abuses, American Indians say it’s time their communities heal from similar abuses at the early government-supported schools – with or without a formal apology from the US government.
The traumas that American Indian children carried home with them from the schools are believed to be the root cause of social ills that haunt Indian communities today.
Planning is underway for a national education campaign and coast-to-coast bicycle relay next year to raise awareness of what happened at the schools and to promote the forgiveness of those responsible, it was announced June 9.
“It’s important for people to understand why Indian Country is the way it is, why there is all this social pathology going on in these communities, said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), former head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agency charged with managing the schools.
“And you can draw a straight line from the boarding schools to alcoholism, substance abuse, the exploitation of children and violence against women in the Indian communities.”
Beginning next May 2009, Indian youth will form statewide relay teams to collectively bicycle more than 8,000 miles to Indian school sites in 17 states. The ride is part of a national campaign to bring to light the “intergenerational trauma” believed to have its deepest roots in the 60 years after the first boarding school was opened in Carlisle, Penn., in 1879, when the United States was still at war with many tribes.
Intergenerational trauma has been described as post-traumatic stress disorder that has been passed down through generations and has manifested itself in epidemic levels of drug and alcohol use, domestic violence and child sexual abuse in Indian communities.
“It’s amazing how many of our people really don’t know our history that well. It’s important to know our history because we are carrying it. We feel that knowledge is power. The more we know about it the more control we have over how it affects us,” said Dr. Maria Brave Heart (Lakota), a nationally-recognized researcher on Indian historical trauma and its effects.
The 2009 Way Home Tour is being organized by the Colorado-based non-profit organizations, White Bison Inc., and the Ancient Ways of Knowing Foundation, as part of the “Wellbriety Movement,” a term coined by White Bison back in 1999 to denote the grassroots efforts in Indian communities to get well through culturally-based programs and practices.
Gift of Eagle Staff
A recent three-day conference on Indian community wellness entitled “Healing the Hurts” in Minneapolis drew more than 300 Indian people and supporters sharing story upon story of young people hooked on drugs, endless funerals and a feeling of hopelessness in their communities.
People listened, many cried, sage was lit, healing songs were sung, and prayers were led by Indian elders to forgive and to release the hurts.
The gathering culminated in the gift of a eagle staff by a Indian woman in memory of her murdered husband - and a commitment to carry the eagle staff coast-to-coast to a handful of the present and former school sites to take back what was lost there, said Don Coyhis (Mohican), founder and president of White Bison Inc., and the conference organizer.
Between 1879 and 1940, the government authorized nearly 500 schools for Indian children – 25 boarding schools run by the BIA and 460 boarding and day schools run by churches. Today, eight off-reservation BIA boarding schools remain for high-risk Native youth.
“We’ll make that ride and get our voice back. It would be nice if we could get an apology from the government. The Australian government did it this past February. It would be nice to get an acknowledgment. For somebody to say, ‘We did kill those babies, we did sexually abuse you, this was done, the fingers were chopped off.’ But we’re not going to hurt any more,” Coyhis told those at the conference.
“We are going to heal and we are going to take our voice back, never to have our voice taken away again. We are taking our voice back so our children will have a voice and be able to stand tall.”