And their fates have yet to be accounted for
Aghh! I'm so sorry about the trees. That's horrible. You know how I feel about trees.
I'm beginning to think we're seeing a second wave of colonization, where the people who live here now, however they got here, are losing whatever agency they might have had over the land where they live, and therefore over their own lives.
I say that as a great-grandchild of white settlers, feeling conflicted about my own luck in owning a handkerchief of land. Watching the housing crisis escalate while private equity cleans up. Watching in horror as the wealthy elite commandeer this state for their own after dividing the current inhabitants into warring tribes so that they are completely powerless to fight back.
Thanks for your loud voice, Chris. I'm not sure when I first heard about Indian boarding schools. I for sure didn't realize until now that it went on for a century. Howwwwww do we make sure that doesn't happen again? The cyclical nature of history terrifies me.
Canadia resident here. I learned about the schools in grade five, in 1995, a year before the last one closed. But even then, they were talked about very much in the past tense and white-washed (in both the covering over and the racist way) as a funny little mistake rather than an intentional systematic part of the British colonial government's commitment to genocide.
My adult learning was significantly different as it occurred to me that my Michif and Cree speaking great-grandmother was likely taken into one, but I'd probably never truly know because Métis children were treated so inconsistently by a system that approaches human identities as binaried and without any nuance. There are not great records, although that in itself is the point, of course. I don't share about this often, but when I do I point out to people that I am the result the system was aiming for—cut off from one whole limb of my family tree and lineage, uncertain of what my non-white ancestors lived through, survived, and didn't survive, while fully aware of my white ancestry and able to find records stretching back to the 1300s.
It's something I visit in my own writing again and again.
I appreciate this post so much, and how it captures the particular grief that comes from not knowing the specifics of what white supremacy colonialism destroyed, as well as the reality that colonialism is not a thing of the past.
Cottonwoods are too trashy for neighborhoods?
Please dear Lord, bury me
Under the boughs of a cottonwood tree...
Where the chickadees sing for eternity.
This is heart breaking to witness such lived torture. Having gone to a “normal” boarding school I know how that was already completely f**ked. I can’t begin to imagine the cruelty. Thank you for out for speaking loud here.,
I make a nice ghee from the black cottonwoods every January, from the rich resin that oozes from their unopened buds and protects the young leaves from the damp and rot of winter and river. The smell is unmistakable, that rich vanilla like perfume and is a cure all salve especially for wood stove burns. Takes the pain away and heals the burn. Ironic that the trees went while this was going on. Sorry for your loss of your two guardians
Yeah, brother, it’s a lot. The weight of the skin we live in this life time. Take care of yourself, your ancestors and descendants need you.
This is heartbreaking. The first time I have heard about the boarding schools is from you Chris. It is shameful that such history is still buried deep and the USA doesn’t bring such history to global visibility. I laud the courage of all the activists like yourself who are spreading the awareness of this history globally. Learning about colonialism, specially if it has effected your ancestors, is an unsettling experience. The discomfort often rises like dark knots inside your being till it burst out in your work. The articulation will slowly evolve, it takes time. I am in complete solidarity with you in this matter.
Also I would like to learn about this conference in more comprehensive manner. Can you point me to a recording of the conference or any other source material if possible?
I was struck by the thought reading your words how we don’t ask Jewish people to “get over” the holocaust. And by even making this comparison I’m risking some pushback from people. But genocide is what happened to Indigenous people too. I think I first heard about the residential schools from my Métis Grandmother on my Mother’s side. My Mother and my aunts were tormented by other kids in school for being a Dirty Indian. And as a result I never really learned about that side of my family very much. My Mom didn’t want to identify with her Métis heritage--too painful.
*I first learned about Indian boarding schools when I worked at the National Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; the NAA has (relatively) large holdings of photographic collections of boarding schools, for instance, here: https://sova.si.edu/record/NAA.PhotoLot.81-12
While there, we worked with and provided primary source material for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition: https://boardingschoolhealing.org/
**I also worked at the Library of Congress for the Veterans History Project (a grassroots oral history archive of those who have served in the US military, of which, Native folks have participated in at great numbers over the years), and I once had the privilege to interview some Native folks about their service; some spoke of their time in boarding schools as part of their history: http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/search?query=race:American+Indian+and+Alaskan+Native
Thank you so much Chris, for continuing to talk about this, how important it is that we all see it and grapple with it!
*I do not speak on behalf of the archives, the museum or the Smithsonian!
**I do not speak on behalf of the archives or the Library of Congress!
I think I only really learned about the boarding schools a few years ago in a book club. It’s horrifying to read about and hear about, but the resilience of the survivors and their families is amazing, yes. I spent some time yesterday looking at The Witness Quilt and also attended a webinar a couple weeks ago on the Truth and a Healing Commission Act they’re trying to get through Congress. Although that would only be a small token gesture In my eyes… a reckoning is due, reparations at least. But we know that is so unlikely to happen. My dad was one of the people who said, “I didn’t do that so why should I feel bad about it” and that was a breaking point in our relationship in the year before he died. We were never able to have a full conversation about it because I was so emotional and hurt by that lack of empathy. The gathering at UM sounds like a wonderful time to feel connected, even if by trauma. There is bonding there in that act of coming together and acknowledging. 🧡
I’m sorry about your trees. Seeing any trees removed by unnatural means pains me, especially when you see them daily and experience the seasons with them. Our next door neighbors have a cottonwood and pine tree that turkey vultures roost in each evening and it’s a lovely sight.
Oh, Chris. I'm so sorry about the trees. And then to read about the boarding school conference. For one, I wish I had been there to honor all the children who were sent away to those awful places. I would have liked to have been in the audience with you, wearing an orange shirt. Second, it's all horrifying. Ocmulgee Mounds recently held its Native Peoples Celebration, a time when many Muscogee (Creek) return. I spoke at length with an elder who had attended a boarding school in Oklahoma. Although she was taken away at 6 years of age, she still speaks her native language. Peace and love to you, brother.
I have passed under many cottonwoods in my foolish pursuit of fish in rivers and have come to admire them. I have rested on their fallen limbs, napped in their shade, camped and shared stories up against their trunks. (I’m thinking of places along the Big Horn river as I write this.)
My understanding of boarding schools has evolved over time. I teach parts of Walter Littlemoon’s memoir, They Call Me Uncivilzed to my students in a classroom management course in a teacher ed program ostensibly to show how school structures have been used to negatively control youth for ages but really just so they have some inkling of what boarding schools did.
The forward in Mr. Littlemoon’s book has one of the most succinct descriptions of complex, inter-generational trauma I have encountered.
Still, I found the recent revelations shocking, which gave me a clue as to the scale of boarding schools and the scale of my own ignorance about them.
The conference you wrote about seems profoundly important. Thanks for sharing about that.
Cottonwoods are native species and need floodwaters to reproduce...thus they are always along rivers. How ironic that a local is being tossed as an "illegal". They are messy shedders and attract aphids...alas.
I learned about boarding schools from a distance in college, but it was more topical...this school was opened, this is this school's most famous person, etc.
When I really learned about boarding schools is when a Dine' minister was visiting with us and shared that he was working on recovering from his boarding school experience ...I was so dumfounded and horrified and grief-stricken, that I just stood there and unabashedly bawled. I had no idea they existed IN MY LIFETIME.
Since I am a survivor of childhood trauma, I needed a way to learn more without re-traumatizing myself and have found that children's picture books written by survivors and their ancestors, have been just enough information and also sharable with my child and the children I teach.
I read about them in college, I think. The cultural genocide. And then the graves. It's full on genocide.
"It felt safe, and how often do we – any of us who don’t fit into the “default system” built primarily on wealth, privilege, gender, sexuality, and skin color – get to feel that way?"
I am trying to teach this very important message to my cysgendered, white, middle-class, male, children. It is a concept that you can empathize with but not truly understand unless you are someone who does not fit into the "default system" but I am trying.
Yup. It's a banjo song about a dog, a tree, and a tree chopped down.
I can't remember first learning about the boarding schools, but the first time I listened to someone's experience of them, from a man maybe in his late 60s, was almost exactly 6 years ago in Banff. His grief and anger saturated the filled auditorium and it still sits with me. It probably always will, and should. Listening to his story is not an experience I can even really talk about yet; that he was able to talk about living it and the pain he was still clearly in is . . . I don't even know. I don't have words.
When Ukraine first overthrew its corrupt oligarchic Russian-backed government, it was called the Orange Revolution. Wearing orange was a sign of solidarity with Ukrainian independence. Now, stories of tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of children stolen and shipped to far places in Russia barely make any news. I don't know how or if humanity can bear what we're willing to do to children in the name of power and control and all the rest of it.