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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.

Levi Rickert

Musings Along the Wellbriety Journey For Forgiveness Walk

There was a lot of time to think during the White Bison's Wellbriety Journey For Forgiveness five-mile walk held at Mt. Pleasant on June 17. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan Indians should be proud to have hosted such a momentous event.

American Indians - and some non-Indians - from all directions of Michigan came to Mt. Pleasant to walk side by side to support the ideal of forgiveness to the non-Indians who encamped generation after generation of American Indian children in boarding schools. We came from cities, rural areas and reservations to voice support for the call for an official apology from President Obama on behalf of the United States government.

Even though we - some five hundred American Indians - had to brave a rainy beginning of the walk. The inconvenience was trivial in comparison to the suffering endured by those generations of American Indians who were forced to attend the boarding schools.

During the walk many musings flooded my mind:

I thought about my deceased grandmother, Ellen Moore Whitepigeon, who was taken from her family on the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and placed in an Indian boarding school at Genoa, Nebraska. I thought about the tattoo - which remained until she died at 89 - on her forearm used to identify who she was during her encampment there.

I thought about how the Nazis tattooed Jews in concentration camps.

I thought about the sheer agony suffered in the hearts of American Indian parents when someone arrived at their doors to take their children away from the protection of their family's love and culture. I thought about the tragic scars left on the souls of American Indians as the result of their losing their family's protection.

I thought about the whole crazy scheme concocted by General Pratt to "kill the Indian and save the man." As I looked around and witnessed my fellow Indian marchers, I thought Pratt's system did not fully succeed. I saw strength of survivalists on the faces of my fellow Indian marchers - especially our great elder George Martin, who is approaching 80 and who walked every mile of the journey.

I thought how most non-Indians don't even know what we are talking about when we mention Indian boarding schools. I thought about how they look at us as if we make up the stories of severe punishment Indian kids endured because they wanted to speak in our Native tongues.

I thought about how we American Indians are often accused of wanting to stay in the victim mode when we should simply "get over it and forget" about what happened to our ancestors. I thought about how Jews purposely have a saying, "lest we forget," so that the world acknowledges they will never, ever endure another Holocaust.

I thought about just how few media covered the walk. I thought if we Indians were fighting one another that day, the media coverage would have been three times larger.

Along the journey to the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School*, the walkers stopped by the Isabella County Courthouse to hear remarks by non-Indian elected officials who voiced their support for an apology. Even though they were well intentioned, many of the words seemed to come out flat and rehearsed as I heard them.

On the grounds of the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School, we were greeted by the thunderous sounds of the drum and singing as we walked into the tent. The crowd suddenly swelled to some six hundred because we were joined by those could not physically make the five mile walk.

As I looked around the crowd against the backdrop of the closed boarding school, I mused I am proud to have been Ellen Moore Whitepigeon's grandson and I was glad I journeyed to Mt. Pleasant in her memory.

Levi Rickert is a tribal member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. He is the former executive director of the North American Indian Center of Grand Rapids.

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.

* The boarding school site local to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan is very frequently called the "Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School," even in some formal publications. However, the historically most-accurate name for this boarding school institution is "Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial School." The publisher of the Tribal web site feels it important, for the simple sake of accuracy, to acknowledge these differing references.