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‘These wounds are fresh:' GVSU remembers boarding school era of Indigenous People’s history

Indigenous People's Day at GVSU pic 1.jpg
Indigenous People's Day at GVSU pic 2.jpg
Posted at 10:27 PM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 23:14:16-04

ALLENDALE, Mich. — Over the summer, mass unmarked graves filled with hundreds of Indigenous children’s bodies were discovered in Canada. On Monday it was the focus of Grand Valley State University’s Indigenous People’s Day event called ‘Resiliency Through Trauma: The Boarding School Era.’

“This is a good opportunity for all U.S. citizens and others to really build a different relationship with the term ‘get over it,'” said event organizer Lin Bardwell. “I know we’ve all heard that as marginalized people. We just really need to not say that anymore because these wounds are so fresh.”

Bardwell is the Native American Student Initiative coordinator with the Office of Multicultural Affairs at GVSU. She said one of the wounds he people still feel are the boarding schools that thousands of Indigenous children were forced to live in throughout North America.

“I think anyone can imagine having their young children, their grandchildren ripped away forcibly from the home and what that does to that child’s experience,” Bardwell said during an interview on Monday. “If you weren’t parented or abused as a child that's kind of your status quo going into partnering your own children. That is that inter-generational trauma.”

The talk was held in the Pere Marquette Room at GVSU. In the back of the room, on tripods, were several pictures depicting Indigenous children at the schools. One captain read:

"Punishment: Infractions of multiple rules frequently resulted in the withdrawal of privileges and/or extra work details. Also food and water were often withheld. Severe punishment experience by both boys and girls included being forced to kneel for an extended period on a hards surface or beaten with a leather strap or rubber hose. Flogging and other extreme forms of punishment were not banned formally until 1929.’ ~ Mt. Pleasant Industrial Indian School

Opening Day, Operated from June 30, 1893 - June 1934

Bardwell said she's been working in this field for years and still learning more about it.

“We had a lot of boarding schools. We called them boarding schools in the United States. Canada calls them residential schools. So, we did have a lot of schools that operate between the 1800s and 1983 here in the United States,” Bardwell said. “The last one in the nation closed in 1983. It’s located in Harbor Springs, Michigan. It’s called the Holy Childhood. So, these wounds are fresh and the trauma is real.”

In June, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School initiative, to learn in detail what happened at the boarding schools in the states and the children there.

“We are very excited to have Deb Haaland at the Department of Interior. We as a nation need to support her because she still exists within a 200-year-old bureaucracy,” Bardwell said. “So, we really need to stand behind her and give her the support of the work that she set out to do. It is very exciting for a lot of us to have that Indigenous firsthand power and authority and influence in government politics.”

The findings of the initiative are expected to be released in April 2022. In the meantime, Bardwell said people should take the time to learn about Indigenous people’s history.

She said their history is all around us.

“I think locally I would love it if more Grand Rapidians were to take the time to learn about the Anishinabek history along the Grand River, what it means to our community and how to better support our community,” Bardwell said. “That would be a wonderful Indigenous People’s Day.”