boarding schools and intergenerational trauma


Lunch with one of my sisters and hearing her stories about boarding school adventures was enjoyable.  As she shared story I also thought about what I have read recently (and historically) about the boarding school experience. Granted my sister wasn’t talking so much about the negativity or disconnect with family that she is aware of, she shared stories of humor and how being away from home created an opportunity for her to meet and make friends with people from other Indigenous nations.

Being my older sister by 10 years, she’s has a few war stories to share and as I listened to students having access to substances and free for all fun while away from home-made it sound like a fun place to be… don’t get it twisted. She also shared how she wished for family time. While boarding schools may have been “fun” for some, for others it may not have been what it seemed. Although we laughed about her memories and adventures at boarding school, I also recalled reading stories of Nimiipuu and other Nations who have ancestors buried in the grave yards behind boarding school houses. A tragedy when one thinks of the genocidal acts boarding school had on Indigenous children. For a visual on this ugly part of US History that society is unaware of, the Heard Museum has a moving exhibit about the boarding school experience. It is not a display of happiness, in fact, when I visited with my then partner (who had an overwhelming feeling of emotion) as he recalled his experience, it was incredibly sad. In that is another story and my point is, when it comes to inter generational trauma related to boarding schools, triggers can occur at any given time. And having said that, it’s important to note, everyone has a unique experience. Not everybody shares the same story, however, within that is the reality and root of the disconnection to family, culture, and Indigenous ways of knowing as a result of boarding schools. They were essentially AND intentionally created as a form of segregated education.

Although I attended boarding school, my experience was entirely different from my sister’s. I attended a federally run boarding school as a day student and child of an employee. The “perk” if there was one was that when school ended at 3:00 (or when it was they let us out) it was that I got to walk home. However, the kids from rural areas of the Rez could not. Parents who could drop their kids off on a Sunday evening and pick them up on Friday were fortunate, it was those who did not have transportation that did not get to see their child as often. The kids who were left, not because their parents did not want to see them, did not have a choice. As I think about how I missed my parents when they left town, I couldn’t imagine being a kid away from home in the comforts of home. Again, my experience was much more different from my older siblings and cousins, even my parents and grand parents. What my sister shared was that she was one of those students who could not leave every weekend. The experience made her resilient and adaptable, however she’s also found she has feelings about the boarding school, it wasn’t all fun and games.

Thoughts on the boarding school experience for Indigenous people… segregation and assimilation efforts to “educate” Indigenous people, while using federal policies, was tragic on our families and communities. Cultural values and parenting was interrupted, more so, it disrupted Indigenous life ways.

Now these blog thoughts out loud is not anything new. In fact, I’m doing my best to not be redundant. We’ve heard it all before. This is not nuclear science either. At the core and root of it all is colonialism. In fact, colonization and genocide continues today. Federally run boarding schools still exist and we have Indigenous people who have not come to the realization and awareness of awakening from the sleep.

Although I started off with some story time, it was thoughts on federal policy and the disruption of Indigenous families and communities that moved me to blog about boarding schools. Boarding schools resulted in the negative affects that we are still healing from as a community. The disruption of family life can be directly correlated to the violence against women and children, fatherless children, incarceration, substance abuse, loss of culture/language, to name a few are residual effects. Boarding schools did not help assimilate Indigenous people, if anything, it isolated Indigenous children and disconnected them from their families and not to mention their ancestors. The inter generational trauma is a reality that Indigenous people are becoming more aware of and today we have members of the community who work in grief counseling. We also have members of the community who are standing up and speaking out against the federal assimilation policies in education, health, and wellness.

Education today involves more than culturally sensitive instruction, it also requires Indigenous educators. Who best to teach about the education on reclaiming culture through culturally relevant curriculum than Indigenous people? Of course practicing ancestral ways of knowing is important and an inclusive process, it is crucial to Indigenous communities and our future. As I sit here contemplating how I would like to be a ripple effect and create a change for my home community, I realize it won’t happen over night, nor is it going to be easy. Looking back at how far my home community has come since I started my education journey, it’s been a slow progression. I am a witness to culturally relevant material and instruction, not only is that an awesome testimony, it is an awesome experience. Thankful and grateful for story time and for the teachers who have impressed my mind and opened my heart up to learning, I believe change has come. Through their healing, we learn about healing, and so on and so forth. Very much like a blossoming flower that returns seasonally, yet with each new season, more blossoms.

In any event, until the next blog thoughts out loud… keep on keepin’ on.

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