The McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies invites applications to the Newberry Consortium in American Indian and Indigenous Studies (NCAIS) Summer Institute for July 5-28, 2023, which focuses on the theme of “Indigenizing Schools: Struggles of Native American and Indigenous Education” that I (Dr. Farina King, University of Oklahoma) and Dr. Kallie Kosc (Oklahoma State University) will co-teach.
The Newberry Consortium in American Indian and Indigenous Studies (NCAIS) provides essential training for graduate students in Indigenous Studies. Every year, students from member universities [that includes the University of Oklahoma] are invited to hone their research skills at a spring workshop, delve into the Newberry collection during a summer institute, and present their work at a graduate conference.
Applications for the graduate NCAIS Summer Institute should be directed to the NCAIS faculty liaison at the member institution by March 31, 2023. If you are a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma, contact the NCAIS liaison Dr. Warren Metcalf at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and want to apply for this summer institute.
Accessibility, Archives, and Native American Boarding Schools: Pathways for Catholic History, March 24-25, 2023
This announcement about the conference was drafted by Patrick Hayes.
This two-day, hybrid conference brings together academic historians and archivists to discuss Native American Boarding Schools and the recorded legacy of the Catholic Church in their operation, roughly from 1819 to 1969. The conference is sponsored by the American Catholic Historical Association and is funded through the ACHA’s SHARP grant—a one-year project designed to place historians, archivists, and members of Native communities in conversation and collaboration.
Attendees at this two-day conference will hear from ten invited participants who were selected to present on their current or past work and the overarching theme of accessibility—to Catholic archival repositories, to new knowledge or understandings, to new issues affecting tribal histories, especially in relation to the Church, and so forth. They will present formal papers of 20 minutes in duration followed by questions and comments from the audience, both on-site and online. Over the course of two days, three contemplated sessions of an hour and a half each, plus another group round table will give closure to our conference. Registration details, along with the full program, may be found here:
We would like to invite you and anyone you know who might be interested and available to attend the Mapping Tahlequah History (MTH) Workshop on Monday, April 10 (9 am-5 pm) that will be held in Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokees (Wilson Hall on the campus of Northeastern State University at 703 N Grand Ave. Tahlequah).
The workshop and 3 pm keynote talk (featuring Dr. Elizabeth Rule and the Indigenous DC app) are free and open to the public (with registration required by April 1st for the 9 am-3 pm sessions of the workshop due to limited space).
Mapping Tahlequah History is a project based at Northeastern State University (NSU) with collaborators at the University of Oklahoma and different organizations and communities. MTH supports student immersive learning and development of a public educational digital humanities interactive map and accompanying database focused on local histories. The map and database help make local historical information more accessible by providing students and other users with links to documents and other resources such as videos and pictures. The project highlights Cherokee and diverse regional histories of Tahlequah and surrounding areas of what is known as Green Country in Northeastern Oklahoma.
This community-centered work-in-progress focuses on Indigenous and racial histories, historic sites and landscapes, and Indigenous place names and languages that layer the map and knowledge of our area. This project brings together citizen scholars from different areas of interest such as humanities in geography, history, linguistics, and Cherokee and Indigenous studies to sustain engaging curriculum and immersive and service-oriented learning that upholds the interconnectedness of higher education and regional relationships.
We especially hope that students, teachers, and educators can participate. We would greatly appreciate your help with spreading the word about the workshop. Please see and share the attached flyers, which are also available through this hyperlink and learn more about MTH on our website: https://mappingtahlequahhistory.org/#
Here is a brief outline of the MTH Workshop schedule:
9 am: Introductions- meet in GIS Lab Wilson Hall (NSU-Tahlequah campus) room 133
10 am-12 pm: Group site visits with the Thompson House, John Hair Cultural Center and Museum, and the Cherokee National Research Center
12 pm-1:30 pm: Lunch break
2-3 pm: Input and Debrief- meet in GIS Lab
3 pm-4:30 pm: Keynote talk with Dr. Elizabeth Rule in Wilson Hall room 407
4:30- 5 pm: Closing & Survey (with sale and author signing of Dr. Rule’s brand new book Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation’s Capital)
The MTH Workshop kickstarts NSU’s 50th Anniversary American Indian Symposium, “Envisioning Indigenous Futurity,” which is free and open to the public with various sessions and activities throughout the week. The symposium will celebrate fifty years of scholarship, broadening perspectives, community building, diversity, and culture since the annual symposium and gatherings of Native American knowledge-carriers began at NSU.
Dr. Doug Kiel (Oneida Nation), Dr. Miranda Belarde-Lewis (Zuni Pueblo/Tlingit) and OU Native American Studies Department’s interim chair Dr. Laura Harjo (Mvskoke) will all serve as keynote speakers and the center of the 50th Annual Symposium on the American Indian. Learn more about the symposium at https://offices.nsuok.edu/centerfortribalstudies/NSUSymposium/default.aspx.
We hope that you can join us in Tahlequah for the MTH Workshop and NSU American Indian Symposium the week of April 10.
ᏩᏙ (Wado)/Ahéhee’/Thank you for your consideration.
We are asking for help identifying high school students (especially Native American students) who would be interested in a paid and for-credit University of Oklahoma internship, “Voices of Oklahoma,” this summer. The internship will teach up to ten (10) students about archaeology and how archaeology is being used to better understand Oklahoma’s people, with a focus on Native American boarding schools. This project will also mentor them in the production of the 2023 “Oklahoma Archaeology Month” poster (which will be distributed statewide in October 2023).
Voices of Oklahoma is one of the Oklahoma Public Archaeology Network’s signature programs for rising high school juniors and seniors from communities that have traditionally been excluded from archaeology.
The summer internship this year will focus on the fraught history of Native American boarding schools in Oklahoma, and the goal is to introduce students—Indigenous themselves—to (1) archaeology, (2) boarding school history in the state, and (3) how archaeology can be used to empower communities to learn about and tell stories related to the role of boarding schools in their past.
The internship will be co-taught by me (Dr. Farina King), in OU’s Native American Studies Department, who specializes in the histories of Native American experiences in boarding schools, and Bobi, Deere, a PhD candidate in anthropology at OU. We are working with Dr. Bonnie Pitblado who founded and directs the Oklahoma Public Archaeology Network (OKPAN), which sponsors a wide range of statewide programs, including the annual “archaeology month” each October, a biennial “Oklahoma Archaeology Conference,” curricula development for K–12 classrooms, an archaeological skills workshop series, and more.
We included key parts of the letter below that we use to recruit students for you to use and circulate as you see fit. Our approach is to target guidance counselors and teachers in particular, but other members of communities as well who might know of and be willing to nominate a student for the internship. We then reach out to nominated students and invite them to answer a few questions.
Beyond seeking to teach about archaeology/history, we also aim to connect students to college, and we mentor them after the internship with the goal of helping them navigate the college application process (and if they come to OU, the transition to college).
Students each receive 2 university credits to use at OU (or transfer elsewhere) and a financial stipend.
We are looking for students who will be difference-makers within their own communities, and we make it clear to them that this is an ethic that underlies everything we cover.
Students are not expected to have any previous background in archaeology. Instead, we seek students who are:
Members of the Native American community will reserve top consideration, but we also welcome nominations of students from other communities historically excluded from archaeology (e.g., Black and Latiné students)
High school students in 2023-2024, with preference for rising juniors and seniors
Available to complete the internship in June and July 2023 (on a schedule to be determined by the needs of the participants, and that includes primary virtual instruction but also in-person field trips)
Creative (in thought and/or the fine and performing arts)
Interns will receive:
OU course credit that can be applied at OU or transferred to any other college to which they later matriculate
A generous financial stipend to compensate for the days they may have to miss working at summer jobs
Learn archeological basics: What is archaeology? How do archaeologists collect data? How can archaeology serve contemporary community members?
Learn (more than they already have) about the History of the American Indian boarding schools in Oklahoma
Meet archaeologists, historians, and others working on a variety of problems and using many different methods
Learn to effectively communicate a message to public audiences through visual and other media
Apply what they learn through creation and distribution of the 2023 OklahomaArchaeology Month poster
Learn how archaeology is able to make a political and social impact
Receive mentoring after their internship that can carry them through and to college, if they wish
Nomination and selection process: We will select interns on a first-come, first-served basis, based first on teacher or other community-member nominations and then upon a Zoom interview.
If you know a student who you would recommend for this opportunity, please send a brief email with their name, a short explanation of their qualifications, and contact information for the student.
Please send nominations to Bobi Deere (email@example.com) as soon as possible, but by March 15, 2023 (please note that selection is first come, first serve, so if you know a particularly strong prospect, please submit their name ASAP).
Lyda Conley’s life and experiences are so inspirational as one of the first Native American women known to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which she did in defense of her Indigenous ancestors and people. Her case was also one of the first in which “a plaintiff argued that the burying grounds of Native Americans were entitled to federal protection.” One of my students, Sarah (Wood) Fite James, brought Lyda Conley to my attention in her class research project, which the Museum of Native American History features on its website.
I am excited that the University Press of Kansas is launching this series in her honor, and I am privileged to serve as one of the series editors with Tai Edwards and Kiara Vigil. This is one of the first press series that I know of named after a Native American woman. Please help spread the word, and let me know if you have any questions and interests in the series. Thank you!
Check out the press release posted on October 6, 2022 by the University Press of Kansas about the new series.
“Some ask, ‘Why fight in the white man’s war? They put your family in prison, tortured them. They treated you as the second-class citizen without the right to vote.’ It is my freedom too, my happiness and family too. I stand up for Mother Earth. She stands for my freedom. I can play, dance, sing, and stand for life. If I’m overburdened, I can cry, that’s my privilege. I went to war, because a foreign country wanted to take my Mother Earth, my freedom.” -Albert Smith, 25 March 2005, Provo, public symposium, Brigham Young University, Provo.
In Bighorse the Warrior, Tiana Bighorse defines what a “warrior” means to the Navajo:
“In Navajo, a warrior means someone who can get through the snowstorm when no one else can. In Navajo, a warrior is the one that doesn’t get the flu when everyone else does- the only one walking around, making a fire for the sick, giving them medicine, feeding them food, making them strong to fight the flu. In Navajo, a warrior is the one who can use words so everyone knows they are part of the same family. In Navajo, a warrior says what is in the people’s hearts. Talks about what the land means to them. Brings them together to fight for it” (xxiv).
Many people recognized my uncle Albert Smith as a warrior, because he served in World War II as a Navajo Code Talker. Many people also knew Albert as a warrior in the Navajo sense of the title. I, Farina King, did.
I can present the basic biographical information about my uncle. Albert Smith was born December 13, 1924 near Mariano Lake, Navajo Nation, New Mexico. He attended boarding school as a child in Crownpoint, Navajo Nation, New Mexico. At the age of 15, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. military during WWII with his older brother, George Smith, providing false information about his age at the time to meet the requirements to join. He was selected to train as a Navajo Code Talker. He served in the 4th Marine Division. He faced combat and worked in military code operations on the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. He traveled abroad again for the U.S. military to Korea and left right before violence broke out in the Korean War. Smith returned to Navajo lands after his military service, and then married Helen L. Brown on September 11, 1953.
Smith continued and finished his education to become a teacher for Native American students and worked at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon for some time before returning to New Mexico to eventually settle in Gallup with his wife and their adopted daughter, Alberta. After retiring from teaching, he became active in the Navajo Code Talkers Association and served as its president for some time. He traveled extensively to speak publicly about his experiences as a Navajo Code Talker after the code was declassified in 1968. He participated in the making of documentaries and the writing of monographs concerning the history of the Navajo Code Talkers. He was also selected as the technical advisor for the film, Windtalkers, directed by John Woo in 2002.
At the age of 88 in the months before his passing, Smith continued to share his knowledge and experience with communities throughout the country.
What makes Albert a warrior to me in the Diné sense is that he always fought in life for the people he loved and the land. He touched many lives after his service in WWII as a teacher and parent. Helen and Albert opened their home to many children without a place to go. They opened their home to me and re-connected me with my Diné heritage and family. Shibízhí(my uncle) inspired me to pursue my dreams and passions, and to become a historian who could tell such incredible and touching stories as his own. He was the most spiritual person that I knew, reminding me that a Creator exists and cares for us his children. He taught me to respect all and our Mother Earth, and he showed me how the “mountain is our church.” The land orients us in our purposes and growth in life. I love you, Shibízhí, and I always will. I close with his own poem that he wrote in honor of his fellow veterans in World War II who passed on before him.
Rest in Peace
We are proud Americans,
Proud Navajo Marines
And, the Proud,
Humble Navajo Code Talkers.
Today as warriors
We stand before you with humility,
With honor and with pride.
These attributes, you left us to enjoy,
To care for, and to treasure.
With your passage through the shadow of death,
Came our precious Freedom, Liberty and Justice.
We survivors of these conflicts honor you,
With a special tribute;
Lend us your spiritual ears,
Drums of the ages have echoed
For you with songs and dances.
—poem by Albert Smith
[Images at the top show Albert Smith visiting Farina King’s class and presenting at Utah Valley University in the fall of 2011; and the historic photo of Navajo Code Talker brothers and King’s uncles Albert Smith and George Smith with “Remember Pearl Harbor sign during World War II]
Please share this call for submissions with anyone who would be interested in contributing to this proposed edited volume. Ahéhee’/Thank you!
COVID-19 in Indian Country
Proposed Edited Volume
Call for Submissions
Submissions due by September 1, 2022
As the COVID-19 pandemic struck peoples throughout the world, Native American communities were disproportionately devastated by the disease. The death rates and suffering of Indigenous people caught some media attention, and health experts and scholars reaffirmed what many Native Americans already knew and lived on a daily basis– the inequalities, disparities, and injustices of being historically marginalized peoples. After surviving centuries of genocide, dispossession, and removal, COVID-19 perpetuated their intergenerational trauma. Human (in)actions and colonization have exacerbated the effects of natural disasters on Native Americans throughout history, as has been the case with COVID-19. This proposed edited volume seeks to tell these stories of Native Americans facing the matrix of disease and colonialism in the COVID-19 pandemic years since 2020 as well as highlighting the ways that Indigenous people have survived, innovated, fought, and thrived in such moments of catastrophe through time. What Native American memories and experiences have contextualized their responses to COVID-19? What kinds of intergenerational knowledge and ties have sustained Indigenous communities during the pandemic?
Please submit chapter proposals to be considered for this proposed edited volume tentatively titled, “COVID-19 in Indian Country: Native American Memories and Experiences of the Pandemic.” We welcome scholarly and creative pieces such as chapter-length manuscripts, poems, short stories, and visual art that relate to Indigenous perspectives and experiences of COVID-19 in the United States. Accepted chapter manuscripts can be of varying lengths but no more than 8,000 words.
Submit a title, abstract (no more than 300 words), a brief biography (no more than 200 words), and a one-page CV (include a list of publications and/or creative works) addressed to Drs. Farina King (University of Oklahoma) and Wade Davies (University of Montana) at firstname.lastname@example.org (and/or email@example.com) and firstname.lastname@example.org. Submission materials are due by September 1, 2022. Drs. King and Davies will notify accepted contributors by September 30, 2022.
The first of an inaugural workshop series titled, “Indigenous Perspectives on the Meanings of ‘Lamanite,’” will be held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah this August 2022.
The objective of these workshops is to support a community of scholars who are interested in reflecting collaboratively on the discourses of “Lamanite.” Participants are committed to strong ties with Indigenous communities, while developing work that relates to these discourses.
The workshop will also include two public sessions with scholars from various fields of Indigenous and religious studies that require pre-registration to attend via https://bit.ly/Aug5Register.
The workshop co-chairs, Dr. Farina King (Diné) and Dr. Michael D. K. Ing (Kanaka ʻŌiwi), along with a steering committee, have coordinated the workshops.
The public is invited to two public sessions of the workshop relating to “Reflections on the Discourses about ‘Lamanites'” on Friday, August 5, 2022 in room 351 of the Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building (CTIHB) at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah [please note that in-person attendees will be responsible for their own parking costs but free lunch will be offered at the venue]:
10:30 am-11:45 am MT (US/Canada): Keynote Talk by Dr. Ignacio Garcia
Dr. García is the Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Professor of Western & Latino history at Brigham Young University. He is the author of numerous books and publications on Mexican American politics and civil rights. He has written on Chicano political parties, the John F. Kennedy presidential campaign as it related to Latinos, written a biography on Hector P. García, an American civil rights icon, and the first civil rights case to be decided by the Earl Warren Court. He has worked on a co-edited volume of essays by major Latino scholars and intellectuals, and also on a history of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s work in the West. He is a past president of the Mormon History Association (2019-2020).
1:30 pm- 2:45 pm MT: Panel featuring Dr. Robert Jospeh, Dr. Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Sarah Newcomb, and Dr. Thomas Murphy
Dr. Joseph is a Senior Lecturer and the Research Centre Director MIG (Law) at the University of Waikato. He is also a Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand. He has been researching and writing about Maori Latter-day Saint history and experiences. He is also writing a biography of his paternal tupuna (ancestors), who fought at the famous 1864 Battle of Orakau during the Waikato Wars.
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto is an assistant professor at Montana State University where she studies the intersections between race, religion, and sexuality. Her book Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and the Family in the American West will be published with the University of Nebraska Press in October 2022.
Newcomb is Tsimshian of the First Nations – Laxsgiik/Eagle Clan. She is a writer of Indigenous identity and issues as they intersect with religion. Her writing also explores her personal experience with Lamanite identity.
Dr. Murphy has a PhD in anthropology from the University of Washington and is President Elect of the Mormon Social Science Association. He has published more than a dozen articles on Indigenous identities and the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Michael Ing and Dr. Farina King will moderate the two sessions.
Dr. Ing is an associate professor of Religious Studies and Affiliated Faculty of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University. He completed a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard’s Divinity School and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard’s East Asian department. He is one of the co-directors of this workshop.
Dr. King is a citizen of the Navajo Nation, and she will begin her position as the Horizon Chair of Native American Ecology and Culture at the University of Oklahoma in August 2022. She recently worked as an associate professor of History and affiliated faculty of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, in the homelands of the Cherokee Nation and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee where she founded and directed the NSU Center for Indigenous Community Engagement. In part of her research, King writes about Diné Latter-day Saint experiences.
There are virtual options to attend the sessions if you prefer to not attend in person. Once you register, we will follow up with more details by the week before the workshop.
The Book of Mormon styles itself as a record “written to the Lamanites,” descendants of the House of Israel who left Jerusalem and populated the Americas a millennia before the arrival of Europeans. Later followers of Joseph Smith expanded the category to include peoples of the Pacific. Since Smith’s day, Latter-day Saints have used the term “Lamanite” to make sense of the world and to assign space in various religious frameworks for peoples Indigenous to the Americas and the Pacific, including people of Indigenous/European and Indigenous/Black heritage from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. This has served to attract people to, and repel people from, Smith’s movements inasmuch as “Lamanite” works as a term of liberation as well as a constraint.
We are forming a community of scholars to address the category of “Lamanite,” centering on Indigenous voices concerned with questions of identity, race, religion, settler colonialism, politics, and the relation of “Lamanite” to other facets of life. This will be a space inclusive of not only the dominant approaches in the academy, but also, and more importantly, Indigenous methodologies and protocols from the communities in which these scholars are rooted; making this community a first of its kind.
To accomplish this, we are developing shared spaces for scholars to reflect on these issues, collaborate with each other, and share their scholarship with larger audiences.
Thank you to Sponsors and Partners
Special thanks to our committed sponsors that have made this intellectual community and initiative possible: the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, and Department of History at Brigham Young University; the American West Center, Department of History, and Mormon Studies at the University of Utah; Mormon Studies at Utah State University; Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University; Signature Books; the Center for the American West at the University of Colorado-Boulder; Sunstone; the Mormon History Association; Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought; the Museum of Mormon History of the Americas; the National Museum of American Religion; Global Mormon Studies; Mormon Social Science Association; Utah Division of State History; Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia; and other partners and scholars from throughout the world.
As the public now decries the unmarked graves of Indigenous children of residential and boarding schools, many Native families are thinking, “We know. Finally, they’re paying attention!” After all the work that many Native communities and intellectuals and activists have been doing, people are noticing and condemning, unlike any time before, the terror and nightmare that Native families have been living with for generations. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, a boarding school descendant, recently announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative. The initiative offers hope to affected communities, but it also raises questions about the methods and approaches of this inquiry. Stories are surging on the outcry and accusations about boarding schools, sometimes without listening to the Native survivors, families, and communities that have already been speaking out and seeking truth, healing, and reconciliation in their own ways. For many that have experienced the horrors of boarding school first-hand, and to their children, these conversations trigger trauma.
Marsha Small and I are two Native American scholars and descendants of boarding school survivors who are dedicated to serving their peoples by amplifying the voices of those who attended Indian boarding schools.
In my work, I address how Diné identity has changed among boarding school students through the twentieth century, and I trace the physical affronts, illness, abuse, and punishment, as well as survivor skills and creativity that students used to overcome their challenges at boarding schools.
Marsha Small, or O tata’veenova’e (Blue Tipi Woman of the Northern Cheyenne/Tsististah), has used geo-referencing systems such as ground penetrating radar (GPR) and geospatial information systems (GIS) to locate unknown and unmarked burial sites of the Chemawa Indian School Cemetery. Listen to my conversation with Sarah Newcomb (Tsimshian) and Marsha Small for the Native Circles podcast.
We are part of a growing collaboration who address the intergenerational impacts of what historian David Wallace Adams defined as “education for extinction,” or schooling set to eradicate Indigenous sovereignty and being in the empire of the United States. We call for the Indigenizing of truth seeking and telling on the histories of boarding schools. Healing derives from self-determination and community-based approaches that center on living Indigenous communities and boarding school survivors and their families. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) has spearheaded this movement for truth and healing in the United States (https://boardingschoolhealing.org/).
As early as 1928, the Meriam Report uncovered many of the harms of Indian boarding schools, such that the federal government increasingly redirected their attention towards public schools for Native children. However, some boarding schools have remained open into the twenty-first century, though they have changed many of their most nefarious policies, many even embracing the teaching of Native American cultures and languages. Yet, struggles over educational sovereignty ensue as Native youth fight to protect their right to life and water at home.
The One Mind Youth Movement, for example, are Cheyenne River Sioux young leaders who are fighting to sustain Indigenous “outreach, community, and education” (https://www.omym.org/). Some Indigenous youth are fighting to wear ancestral regalia at their graduations such as Christian Titman of the Pit River Tribe who sued his school district in California for not allowing him to wear an eagle feather in his graduation cap in 2015.
The Navajo Nation is an example of a tribal nation that is attempting to reaffirm their authority over the education in public schools on their reservation in pending legal cases such as in Window Rock Unified School District v. Reeves, et al. (9th circuit, 2017).
Boarding school histories trigger guilt, both in those involved, as well as those looking on. Many now ask, what more could we have done to save the lives of these children? What should we do now, as we continue to learn more of the violence, loss, and injustices that such schools orchestrated and harbored?
I once asked my father why he never taught me Diné bizaad, Navajo language, and he told me, “You never asked.” But I also know other Diné parents who no longer talk to their children in Navajo, and they openly admit that they thought that their language would hurt their prospects in the future. The schools drilled in them that Indigenous languages and cultures were impediments and vestiges of a losing and dying people. They believed that the trajectory of their children excluded Indigenous values, including sovereignty and peoplehood for which many of their ancestors sacrificed their lives. A relentless ailment that burdens the survivors of boarding schools and their posterity is the paradox that we will either forever belong to a race of victims, or we can reject our Indigeneity and side with “the winning team.” History is often framed as a game of winners and losers, but there are never winners in such histories of violence and rupture.
Indian boarding school truth-seekers must pursue healing, not in a linear but cyclical ongoing way, and recognize our Indigenous ancestors made the most of difficult situations. They survived with the hope that their descendants would someday thrive. Uncovering buried truths will reopen the wounds that never fully healed, and the healing will be painful. This is not a process that can be rushed, or ripped apart, and it must involve those who are affected by the legacies of Indian boarding schools. Each grave uncovered represents a missing child, a stolen ancestor, and a family that never came to be.
In the first episode of the Native Circles podcast that I started with Sarah Newcomb, we address issues of Indigenous boarding schools. In this blog piece, I continue to reflect on the impacts of Indian boarding schools in my own family and life. These are some of my thoughts:
Yá’át’ééh, shí éí Bilagáanaa nishłí̹ dóó Kinyaa’áanii báshíshchíín. Bilagáanaa dashicheii dóó Tsinaajinii dashinálí. I just introduced myself by my clans, acknowledging my ancestors and kin as a woman of white English-American settler descent born for the Towering House and Black-Streaked Woods People of the Diné. I am a citizen of the Navajo Nation and the daughter of a boarding school survivor. I grew up with the stories of Indian boarding schools from my father and paternal relatives. Their stories have drawn me to understand Diné and diverse Indigenous experiences in boarding schools over generations.
I exist, because my father survived boarding school; and his mother before him survived boarding school; and her father before her survived boarding school; and his parents before him survived the Long Walk—the forced removal and concentration of Diné at Hwééłdi, “Land of the Suffering.” Because of my ancestors, my children and I have the opportunity to thrive as Diné. These thoughts really hit me recently, as I ponder how the U.S. government is finally launching a Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative following Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s announcement.
In my first book, The Earth Memory Compass, I share the story of how my father ran away from the Ramah Indian Boarding School. I woke up this morning crying, rethinking about my father’s story of running away, because it dawned on me that my father almost did not survive boarding school. He almost froze to death, when he ran away with another boy in the winter. I asked him if I could share this story again, and he consented to it. He told me how bullies at the school led him to run away, and he asked friends if they wanted to run away with him. Another boy decided to come with him because he wanted to go home too. On their way, they got caught in a canyon during a snow drift that almost killed them. But they were fortunately found by a rancher who saved their lives. I thought of all the stories of boarding school runaways and how some children died that same way that my father almost did—freezing to death in their attempt to return home. When I asked him why he ran away, he told me that he “did not run away from the education.”
Think of all the daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, who are family, and they never returned home or they passed away soon after getting home. Think of their posterity that could have been. My father should have never had to face such struggles and hardships. This history lives on in him, me, and my children. Diné and many Native Americans and Indigenous peoples continue to fight every day for basic human rights such as access to clean water, shelter, food, healthcare, and schooling for and by their own people. The Navajo Nation is still fighting to reclaim Diné education.
My father may have survived the boarding school, but he suffered many injuries—and not just physical ones. He will never say these things, because he does not live his life as a victim. He is an active agent who has persevered much but has also lived in joy and peace. Yet, my father never taught me and my siblings Diné bizaad, so I fear that the seed of the Navajo language that he has carried may not survive. There is much that we still must do to pursue healing. And it is important to recognize that healing is not a check box to be marked off. Healing is a cyclical, ongoing journey through generations and time.
Indigenous kinship, community networks, and protocols are essential to understanding Indian boarding schools and to the ongoing journeys of healing and reconciliation. There are many different tribal nations and Indigenous communities, including some that are intertribal in urban settings. Every specific context and Indigenous community and kinship networks must be connected hand-in-hand with these initiatives to address the impacts of Indian boarding schools. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and so many others have been paving the way for this truth, healing, and reconciliation. My friends Marsha Small and Preston McBride have been working on finding and accounting for the lost boarding schoolchildren, including those in unmarked mass graves, that did not survive Indian boarding schools. We are collaborating on providing guides to Indigenous protocols based on our experiences and work.
We need to support one another in these efforts to acknowledge and learn of the truths, perspectives, and experiences of Indian boarding schools; to stop the boarding school legacy of genocidal practices and approaches that seek to eradicate Indigeneity; and to embrace and support Indigenous sovereignties, ways of knowing, and education. Value Indigenous stories, histories, and lives. Actions reveal these values. We can return the lost boarding schoolchildren home by finding them, learning about them, and supporting and connecting with their families and Indigenous communities which include boarding school survivors.
My forthcoming book that I am co-authoring with Mike Taylor and James Swensen is called Returning Home because of such interconnections of healing and reconciling Indian boarding school pasts with Indigenous communities today and their futures. Please continue the languages that the children were punished for speaking; be sure the sick, hungry, and homeless of Indigenous communities can receive care and support; teach all about Indigenous histories from Indigenous perspectives and voices; and listen to Indigenous communities, following their directions and guidance towards healing. These are only some beginning steps, but we all need to begin somewhere step by step. Boarding School history matters because Native American families have paid far too great a price to educate their children, and they continue to this day to pay that price.