“These wounds are fresh:” GVSU Recalls Boarding School Times in Indigenous Peoples History

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ALLENDALE, Michigan – Over the summer, anonymous mass graves filled with hundreds of the bodies of Indigenous children were discovered in Canada. Monday was at the center of Grand Valley State University’s Indigenous Peoples Day event called “Resilience Despite Trauma: The Age of Residential Schools”.

“This is a great opportunity for all US citizens and others to truly build a different relationship with the term ‘overcoming this’,” said event organizer Lin Bardwell. “I know we’ve all heard this as marginalized people. We just really don’t need to say it anymore because these wounds are so fresh. “

Bardwell is the Native American Student Initiative Coordinator at GVSU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. She said one of the wounds people still feel are residential schools in which thousands of Indigenous children were forced to live in North America.

“I think anyone can imagine their young children, their grandchildren being forcibly taken away from home and what that feels like to this child’s experience,” Bardwell said in an interview Monday. “If you weren’t a parent or abused as a child, it’s kind of your status quo to associate with your own children. It’s this intergenerational trauma.

The conference took place in the Pere Marquette room of the GVSU. At the back of the room, on tripods, were several photos of Indigenous children in schools. One captain read:

“Punishment: Violations of multiple rules often resulted in the removal of privileges and / or additional work details. In addition, food and water were often refused. Both boys and girls were severely punished, including being forced to kneel for an extended period on a hard surface. or beaten with a leather thong or rubber hose. Flogging and other forms of extreme punishment were not formally banned until 1929. ‘ ~ Indian Industrial School of Mt. Pleasant

Opening day, operated from June 30, 1893 – June 1934

Bardwell said she has been working in this field for years and is always learning more about it.

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

In June, Home Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Residential Schools initiative, to learn in detail about what happened at U.S. residential schools and the children there.

“We are very happy to have Deb Haaland at the Home Office. As a nation, we have to support it because it still exists within a 200-year-old bureaucracy, ”Bardwell said. “So we really have to support her and give her the support of the work that she is committed to doing. It is very exciting for many of us to have this firsthand Aboriginal power, authority and influence in government policy. “

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

She said their story is all around us.

“I think locally, I would love for more Grand Rapidiens to take the time to learn more about the history of the Anishinabek along the Grand River, what it means to our community and how to better support our community,” Bardwell said. “It would be a wonderful Indigenous Peoples Day.


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