Photo by Getty Images
Photo by Getty Images

Appreciating the Truth About Native American History

The month of the November, with Thanksgiving and Native American Heritage Month, brings a chance to learn more about Native American culture and history. Unfortunately, the stories historically promoted in the broader American society has typically not matched the actual history and experiences of Native American people. As we talk about appreciating the first people of this land, this month brings an opportunity to de-mystify some of the myths commonly believed by our fellow Americans.

As part of their Native American Heritage “Lunch and Learn” series, First Nations honored Kevin Gover, Under Secretary for Museums and Culture for the Smithsonian Institute (former Director of the National Museum of the American Indian). See how Kevin is making space to change some of the false narratives about Native Americans in history in TEDx Talks - (Re)Making History: The Real Story is Bigger and Better.

Truths from the Indian Boarding School Era

In the last year, some hard truths have been unearthed regarding the history of Native American boarding schools. In May of 2021, the story of the 215 children who were found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia made international news. While the knowledge of the thousands of American Indian, Alaska Native and First Nations Boarding who were lost at Indian and Residential Schools in US and Canada has long grieved Native communities; this truth has that has rarely been reflected in the mainstream media.

Starting a widespread effort to uncover and record the remains of the many children whose deaths were not accounted for during the 100 year period of Indian Boarding School policies enforced by the United States and Canadian governments from 1860-1960. The count of children found in unrecorded graves on the grounds of Indian boarding schools has now reached over 7,000 children, with some children being as young as 3 years of age. The children unearthed in the last year, join the 100s of thousands of Native children whose deaths have been accounted for in the records of schools run by religious institutions on behalf of the federal government.

Healing Voices Volume 1
Truth Precedes Healing and Reconciliation

Following the Canadian government’s efforts to address the atrocities of Indian Residential Schools through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; in her capacity as Secretary of the Interior, former Representative Deb Haaland, established a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative this year to review the legacy of federal boarding school policies.

Following the announcement of this Initiative, Senator Elizabeth Warren re-introduced a bi-partisan bill on the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools on behalf of the Native American Caucus that was originally introduced by Deb Haaland in 2020. Senate Bill S.29097- Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act would establish a federal commission that would not only have the power to investigate, but also move towards reconciliation by “seeking healing for stolen Native children and their communities”. Acknowledging attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages through harsh and abusive assimilations practices; this bill seeks to address the ongoing impact of human rights violations on Native communities. The federal commission would “develop recommendations for Congress to aid in healing of the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities and provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.”

While truths that continue to emerge about Indian Boarding Schools are deeply painful for everyone, they also pave the way for healing Native families today. Native American Heritage Month also presents an opportunity for individuals to contribute to the healing of Native communities with action in support of the Commission. Learn how your organization, city or faith group can add to the resolutions in support for the Truth and Healing Commission.

PHOTO/STEWART INDIAN SCHOOL MUSEUM AND CULTURAL CENTER: Students in front of the old main school building in the early 1900s.
PHOTO/STEWART INDIAN SCHOOL MUSEUM AND CULTURAL CENTER: Students in front of the old main school building in the early 1900s.

Every Child Matters: Reconciliation through Education

Raising awareness around the impacts of Indian Boarding Schools, Sierra Native Alliance (SNA) has brought the international #Every Child Matters, or Orange Shirt Day, campaign to Placer County. SNA initiated awareness activities on September 30th, the National Day of Remembrance for U.S Indian Boarding School; to recognize, honor, and support lost children, survivors and their families.

Photo by Brooklyn Shinabargar
Photo by Brooklyn Shinabargar

SNA Youth Leaders decorated orange shirts to wear to school on September 30th, to start conversations with their peers about news coverage of Indian boarding schools. Peer Advocate, Zoe Ornelaz, wrote an article for the EV Cain Middle School newspaper and a #Every Child Matters education sheet for community events such as the Auburn Pow-Wow. SNA has also been facilitating an ongoing community art project using orange shirts to commemorate the children lost at Indian schools. Engaging in community art and education has provided a pathway for our youth to cope with historical trauma, as news of the 1000s of children found in unmarked graves at Indian boarding schools has come to light during the past year.

Zoe Ornalez working on social media materials
Zoe Ornalez working on social media materials

The Orange Shirt campaign also provides opportunities for reconciliation for the larger community in regards to the difficult truths of the Federal Indian School Policy; which was designed to suppress Native culture and resulted in physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse for generations of Indian children. Children in California were taken away to the Sherman Institute in Riverside, Fort Bidwell in Modoc County, and the Stewart Indian School by Carson City, Nevada. Similar to other federally-run Indian Schools, 200 unmarked graves have been found at the Stewart school were many tribal children from this area were sent. Reconciling the truth together, the long history for Native people can be healed.

This content for this post was provided courtesy of Anno Nakai, Executive Director of Sierra Native Alliance.
For more information on Sierra Native Alliance and its services in Placer County, please visit their website at sierranativealliance.org

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