MARQUETTE — In the summer of 2021, the discovery of more than 1,300 unmarked children’s graves in Western Canada sparked a global discussion about the horrors inflicted on Indigenous peoples by the Canadian government in collaboration with the Catholic Church, which ran boarding schools that aimed to forcefully assimilate Indigenous peoples into white culture.
The legacy of these institutions was largely unknown in non-Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States. As more revelations about the horrors of the schools came to light, including forcibly removing children from their families, much of the focus has remained on Canadian residential schools.
Leora Tadgerson, a member of the Gnoozhikaaning-Bay Mills and Wiikwemkong First Nation and head of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Northern Michigan University, is raising awareness of an uncomfortable truth: These things happened on the Upper Peninsula, too.
Tadgerson is part of a team educating UP residents about the long and painful history of boarding schools in Michigan through their project called “Walking Together: Finding Common Ground traveling exhibition. The exhibition features interviews with at least eight former residents of boarding schools and orphanages.
“We really learn what the authentic Michigan experience was like,” Taderson said. “There are so many rumors going around about what it was, what it wasn’t. There is not a lot of education on this.
The exhibit will tour UP to many education-focused venues: schools, universities, libraries, and churches. The exhibit is a partnership between the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, Northern Michigan University, the Center for Native American Studies, and the Great Lakes Peace Center.
“The state may not feel whether it played a significant role in the days of boarding schools. However, the system of forced adoption and foster care that emerged for Native American children was directly an initiative of the state,” Taderson said. “These stories are not yet being told on a large scale. It’s due to intergenerational trauma, it’s due to efforts at assimilation, because of so many things. This loss of identity.
This project is representative of a renewed desire to investigate those boarding schools and orphanages that have been the scene of untold acts of tragedy and evil.
“There are tribal leaders here in the Upper Peninsula who remember their grandmothers going there (orphanages). Now that they’re getting older, they’re starting to go back to remembering states of those really difficult memories that they’ve been putting off for so long.” Taderson said. “There were children who were victims of rape, these little girls had babies and they put them in incinerators. These are atrocities, these are acts of genocide and they have not been heard.
Although this story has been largely unexplored, that seems to be changing. In February, State Senator Wayne Schmidt introduced a bill that would encourage high school students across the state to learn about boarding schools.
Nor does the need for truth and reconciliation stop at the state level. In September, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, which would establish a commission not only to document and investigate the history of these places, but also to recognize the role that the federal government played in hopes of healing the wounds suffered, not only in the distant past, but by individuals and families who are still touched by this history today.
“We can’t just heal Indigenous people,” Taderson said. “It’s all members of our community together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. We have to start with a dialogue. »
For more information, visit www.miigwechinc.org/general-9-2 and Walking Together: Finding Common Ground roadshow on Facebook.