In planning the Funder’s Tour at the inaugural National Conference of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, hosted in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and on the grounds of the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School, I knew it would be transformative for the Funders who joined us but it was life changing for me as well. As I reflect on the tour, I will share some things that were especially impactful and that I will carry with me always.
We started off the tour with The Blanket Exercise which is an experiential kinesthetic activity that involves taking participants through the key historical points while giving insight and glimpses into the destruction and loss caused by colonization and the genocide of Native American people here in the U.S. Much of this history is not well known to mainstream America and even Native people themselves as it is not part of our educational curriculum. We had some Native youth who joined us which gave the activity a three-generational perspective that was powerful as they their insights. In the activity, I was one of the very few last Natives standing and understanding the resiliency it takes to keep standing was an important realization. Still standing when whole systems were created to destroy generations. I am still standing.
The tour included joining the conference sessions which were all so amazing but one especially moving was the screening of Indian Horse, an award winning film that follows a young Native child through his life which included removal into boarding school which included the horrors that so many experienced, finding his passion, and ultimately finding himself. When I turned around to leave the room I was overwhelmed to see so many people were in tears. Not the small tear that escapes the eye and can be quickly wiped away but tears that have welled up like a deep fountain from your soul being finally released. I was one of those people. The story was family’s life, my father’s life, my life. Not exactly, none of us were hockey players but that doesn’t matter… the story runs so much deeper. It’s the story, one of the stories, that so many if not every Native family has experienced with governmental policies of assimilation.