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Personal Reactions to the
Journey For Forgiveness

Many followed the Journey to its completion in Washington DC Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, shown in the slideshow above. Photos by Joseph Sowmick, courtesy of the Tribal Observer.

Debra Hansen

Soul Wounds

The greatest human quest is to know what one must do in order to become a human being - when the doors between the worlds and the spirits roam free, the sounds of ancient drum pulse in perfect harmony.

Across the lands of a thousand years, and those resting beneath ancestral spirit houses; a stir begins; innocent voices tormented; whispering in the wind, it may go unnoticed at first - for it is the past - the voice of the voiceless breathing life into present - demanding to be heard, it is the beginning of future steps toward Forgiveness to Healing Journey; it is restoring balance and harmony to Indigenous people through spiritual cleansing; education; awareness; acknowledgement; forgiving the unforgivable; it is tiny steps taken toward spiritual healing through traditional and cultural practices.

Today a proud people stand united - Red, Yellow, Black, White - Sacred Hoop gathering prayers and tears of the survivors; cocooning the nameless in blanketed hallowed Eagle Feathers.

Restoring dignity and honor to the oppressed, unified we walk, rain or shine, giving them voice.

The silence has lasted long enough.

It is time to begin again.

To even begin to grasp the horror and truth of the Indian boarding schools requires that we look first and last at ourselves, as we truly are - a part of unspeakable acts that spawned genocide. It is astonishing the official wall of denial has begun to crumble despite all the king's horses and all the king's men.

Tribal elders who had witnessed the catastrophic developments of the nineteenth century - the bloody warfare, the near extinction of the bison, the scourge of disease and starvation, the shrinking of tribal base, the indignities of reservation life, the invasion of missionaries and white settlers - there seemed to be no end to the cruelties perpetrated by European mindset. And after all of this, the Indian boarding schools, the only way to "save" Indians was to destroy them, that the last great Indian war should be waged against children - they came for the children…

The reservation boarding school system was a war in disguise. It was a war between the United States government and the children of the First People of this land. Its intention was that of any war; elimination of the enemy. The reason this war is difficult to recognize is because it was covered by the attractive patina of a concept called "Manifest Destiny," a philosophy by which the white European invader imagined themselves as having a divine right to take possession of all land and its fruits. The Indian boarding school movement was invented by the descendants of those who rode the Manifest Destiny band wagon. Educating Indians was the refinement of the times - a continuation of the process. Its effort was to confine Indians to sedentary life and to gain more land for use by European settlers. The "reformers" of the 1890s were just another group of torchbearers - doing their part in this ongoing process of cultural genocide and providing additional strands to strengthen the rope that forms the noose of genocide around the neck of the Native people.

In any encounter with mainstream historical accounts, it is obvious that Native people were very little more than a "problem" to be solved by the colonizers. To white society, they were heathens and behaved like savages. They had no written language, their children were unschooled and, for the most part, they didn't know how to stay in one place. Many moved their villages according to the seasons.

If these people, these Natives, were ever going to amount to anything in this United States of America, they had to be taught the proper and acceptable way to live. All aspects of Native culture or way of life were unacceptable to the white European mind.

In a relatively short time it was decided that, as a tool for assimilation, these day schools were not and would never be successful. The children were too close to their homes, families and cultures to be fully, successfully indoctrinated with white society's language and values. The next step was to establish reservation schools that were located near the agency headquarters. The third and final plan to be adopted was the off-reservation boarding school.

This was finally to be the way to rid Native children of their language and culture.

The children were sent, in many cases, hundreds of miles away from family, language and Native ways. What started as an experiment with Indian prisoners, soon became the model upon which this latest educational effort was patterned.

Many parents resisted sending their children to the reservation schools, and opposition was widespread. Indian agents had strong powers of persuasion in this regard. Sometimes supplies were withheld from uncooperative families, and in cases where there was continued resistance, police were sent to take the children by force.

The "fanaticism" of the Ghost Dance was blamed for some of the opposition to sending Native children to the boarding schools. Some students, after arriving at the school, became so ill that they had to be sent home. Some students displayed their resistance by running away. The children who remained frequently practiced their culture and spoke their language in secret and in fear. For the student that did not resist, it was a matter of practicality; associations with whites had taught Indians that they were never again to be permitted to live on their own terms.

It has taken extraordinary courage for the survivors that have come forward to speak publicly about the abuse they suffered. It is a true testament to their resilience as individuals and to the strength of their culture. Regrettably, many former students are not with us today and died never having received healing or apology from the federal government.

It is late afternoon, the rain has subsided - a spiritual cleansing has taken place at the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial (boarding) School.

As I reflect upon the crumbling buildings, my heart is drawn to a broken window on the East side of the classroom building; beautiful brown faces rejoicing; shyly dancing and singing along with those of us who have made the five mile journey to compromised land; glistening faces stand in awe studying the sacred ceremony honoring them; they recognize the participants as their people - realizing they are safe, loved and protected.

Their little faces gleam as tears flow freely from tormented ebony eyes: Voices sing in perfect Ojibwa harmony; tiny innocent hands embrace plagued adult hands as they move in perfect rhythm toward the sacred circle; sweet nectar dribbles delightfully down illuminate faces - partaking in blessed heart berry.

The wounded soul has wept long enough.

It is time for healing.

This story appears in the July 2009 edition of the Tribal Observer and is printed here with its permission. The views expressed here are those solely of the author and do not represent the official views of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.