NCAI Calls for Accountability Trauma Caused by Native American Boarding
The discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada is a sorrowful reminder that the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) has repeatedly called for transparency and accountability for the historical and generational trauma caused by Native American boarding schools in the United States. In 2016 and 2017, NCAI called upon the United States government and organizations that operated residential boarding schools to fully account for their treatment of Native children and be fully transparent in providing records related to enrollment and living conditions.
“The discovery of unmarked graves of Native children at Kamloops, dating back possibly a century or more, is beyond horrific. By law, our ancestors were systematically forced into boarding schools where they were beaten, starved, sexually abused and, as we see now, died from neglect or even worse. Their families were never told the truth about what happened, and the perpetrators, individually or institutionally, were never held responsible,” said Fawn Sharp, president of NCAI. “These were lawful actions for nearly 100 years by both the United States and Canada. A new era of accountability starts with a genuine commitment to truth and reconciliation with tribal nations, and with the formation of a formal Commission to study the impacts of the Indian Boarding School Policy. We call on the federal government to finally answer for these transgressions against Native children and families.”
Fawn Sharp, President of National Congress of American Indians
Historically, the Boarding School Policy of 1869 required American Indian and Alaska Native children to attend boarding schools to assimilate the children into a Westernized identity and way of life.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act Fund of March 3, 1819, and the Peace Policy of 1869, the United States, in concert with and at the urging of several denominations of the Christian Church, adopted an Indian Boarding School Policy expressly intended to implement cultural genocide through the removal and reprogramming of American Indian and Alaska Native children to accomplish the systematic destruction of Native cultures and communities. The stated purpose of this policy was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
Federal boarding school policies required AI/AN children to be taken from their families and stripped of their culture, language, and tribal identity and placed in the ‘care’ of federally run schools. Children could face severe punishment in the form of physical, mental, and emotional trauma, in addition to neglect, inadequate nutrition, disease, and succumbing to illness either as a result of either non-compliance to the assimilationist rules or as a byproduct of attending such an institution. Some students forced into these institutions between 1869 and 1972 are unaccounted for, and their fates and whereabouts remain unknown.
Three Lakota Boys forced to be “white”, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, 1900
Thomas Indian School, girls' basketball team (www.calie.org)
American Indian Girls in Uniform (National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution)
In 2016, NCAI passed a resolution to address our lost relatives and formally call upon the United States government to provide a full accounting of the total number of students removed to the custody of boarding schools or churches operating with federal funding and to account for the fate and final resting place of each child who did not survive.
In 2017, NCAI passed another resolution (https://www.ncai.org/resources/resolutions/call-to-collect-testimony-about-the-american-indian-and-alaska-native-children-who-went-missing-under-u-s-boarding-school-policy) to call upon our membership to gather testimony and share information about our loved ones who attended boarding schools but who remain unaccounted for. NCAI will continue to work to ensure that none of our American Indian and Alaska Native children are ever forgotten and to right the wrongs imposed upon both past and present generations.
(Editor’s Note: To learn more about this issue, visit NAT’s story Claiming Our Heritage from the Boarding School Experiment)
Cigna Grant Combines Prenatal Care, Drug Education with Traditions
Kassie Runsabove, a community health worker at St. Vincent’s Hospital, reviews Native-themed books for the unique program.
The Cigna Foundation announced it will provide a $100,000 grant to the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in Billings, Montana to help improve the health outcomes of Native American women and babies through increased access to early prenatal care, drug education and intervention when needed.
“Addiction is a national crisis, and tribes are experiencing its impact along with the rest of the country. St. Vincent’s is a mission-driven health care facility dedicated to serving the Native American community, and Cigna Foundation is helping us develop a sustainable maternity care delivery model,” said Vicki Birkeland, St. Vincent Healthcare Director of Women’s Services. “This is important work and we look forward to seeing improved health outcomes for the moms and babies we serve.”
Baby moccasins made in classes at the hospital for families with babies. Other traditional activities have included prayer, smudging, signage and building a teepee during Native American Heritage Month.
Previously, the Cigna Foundation provided grant funding to St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation to support an American Indian Health Disparities Coordinator who serves as a community health worker. St. Vincent’s chose Kassie Runsabove for this role to work as an advocate and cultural liaison, and to be responsible for implementing projects to identify and reduce health disparities.
Runsabove (center) with two hospital staffers at a healthcare event.
Chantielle (center), a midwife from St. Vincent's attending a baby fair at the Northern Cheyenne Lame Deer Reservation.
The new Cigna Foundation grant provides an additional year of funding to help St. Vincent’s further its mission to improve the cultural competency skills of maternal health care providers, and to work with tribal community partners to provide prenatal education on healthy nutrition, stress management, and other healthy lifestyle topics. The program is expected to result in measurable outcomes, including:
- Earlier access to prenatal care with the goal of improving birth weights
- Increased participation at designated prenatal clinics, including St. Vincent's Midwifery & Women’s Health Center, the midwifery clinic on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, and at the health care facilities of community partners including Indian Health Services (IHS)
- Decreased numbers of NICU admissions
- Decreased numbers of babies born prematurely
- Increased participation in substance abuse recovery programs
Cigna Foundation's Executive Director, Mary Engvall.
“We are focused on improving health equity and are working with organizations such as St. Vincent’s to eliminate disparities that create barriers to health care,” said Mary Engvall, executive director of the Cigna Foundation. “St. Vincent’s community health worker is integral to effectively coordinating care between the rural reservations and an urban hospital setting in a culturally sensitive manner, while building a safe environment of trust for patients.”
The Cigna Foundation, founded in 1962, is a private foundation funded by contributions from Cigna Corporation and its subsidiaries. It supports organizations sharing its commitment to enhancing the health of individuals and families, and the well-being of their communities, with a special focus on those communities where Cigna employees live and work.
For more information on the Foundation’s partnership with St. Vincent’s, see the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-RT9qlLQCA&feature=youtu.be
Lead and article photos courtesy of Cigna Foundation.
Smithsonian's "Americans" Reveals Indians are Everywhere
Considered the most stylish of mass-produced motorcycle models, this 1948 Indian Chief is
now on view in the museum’s Potomac Atrium. Photo by Matailong Du for the National
Museum of the American Indian.
Images of American Indians are everywhere, from the Land O’Lakes butter maiden to the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, from classic Westerns and cartoons to episodes of Seinfeld and South Park. American Indian names are everywhere, too, from state, city and street names to the Tomahawk missile. Beyond these images and names are familiar historical events and stories—Thanksgiving, Pocahontas, the Trail of Tears and Battle of Little Bighorn—that have become part of everyday conversation. “Americans,” a new long-term exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, uncovers the many ways American Indian images, names and stories have been part of the nation’s history, identity and pop culture since before the country began. Not only does the exhibition reveal the phenomenon of hiding in plain sight, it also asserts that such images and words and stories are a powerful way to understand a country forever fascinated, conflicted and shaped by its relationship with American Indians. The exhibition was curated by Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche) and Cécile R. Ganteaume.
“Pervasive, powerful, at times demeaning, the images and objects featured in ‘Americans’ reveal the deep connection between Indians and non-Indians, even while their actual interaction may be far less frequent,” said Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. “Our hope is that visitors will come away from the exhibition not only more aware of the pervasive presence of Indian imagery and words in their lives, but also with a new understanding of important historical events they thought they knew.”
The exhibition title is a play on words and a nod to the name originally given to this country’s indigenous inhabitants by Europeans. It is meant not only as a reminder of the primacy of American Indians in the territory known as the United States but also of the tangled relationship between Indians and the people now called Americans.
Inside the exhibition’s visually powerful central gallery visitors will find themselves surrounded by hundreds of objects and images from three centuries of American life. In addition to an actual Tomahawk flight-test missile, the panoramic display includes a classic 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle, Big Chief writing tablet, Calumet Baking Powder can, Washington NFL team baby blanket, as well as clips from TV shows and films. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn more about each object and image from interactive screens in the exhibition.
A short animated film, “The Invention of Thanksgiving,” provides a whimsical look at how a “brunch in the forest between Indians and newly arrived people from England” was rescued from being a footnote to history and curiously became this country’s origin story and part of the national narrative.
This Squaw Brand canned peas label features a woman and her infant. Native American
women are commonly featured in advertising as the gatherers of food. Original label
part of a private collection. Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian.
The exhibition upends three stories that are part of American national consciousness and popular culture: the life of Pocahontas, Trail of Tears and Battle of Little Big Horn. Intriguing wall text draws visitors into the three galleries. One of them—“Pocahontas didn’t save John Smith. She saved America.”—invites visitors into a gallery devoted to the young Powhatan woman who played a key role in saving the colony of Jamestown—but not John Smith. Another story opens with—“Trail of Tears: Not what you think. Not even close.”—at the entrance of a gallery that explores the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Signed by President Andrew Jackson, the Act envisioned a United States without Indians. One of the boldest and most far-reaching laws in American history, removal transformed the country—generating great wealth for the nation and catastrophe for Native Americans. The third story opens with the question: “Who really won the Battle of Little Bighorn? It’s complicated.” It invites visitors into a gallery devoted to the story of the battle also known as Custer’s Last Stand. Each gallery features objects, images and a timeline that traces how these events have been interpreted and reinterpreted throughout the years.
Officially Indian: Symbols That Define the United States, written by co-curator Ganteaume, is the exhibition’s companion publication. The 184-page hardcover book examines the United States’ use of imagery of American Indians to distinguish itself from other nations and to define itself for its citizens. Officially Indian includes a foreword by Colin G. Calloway and an afterword by exhibition co-curator Smith. It is available in the museum’s store and online.
About the Museum
The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. National Mall at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue S.W.; Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25); Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and AmericanIndian.si.edu.
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Opinion: The Cannabis Controversy Among the Mohawks
By Doug George-Kanentiio
- News From Indian County -
I have written previously about the current issues involving the use of cannabis, and its attendant controversy which began with the racial fanaticism of Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the US office of narcotics, and William Randolph Hearst, the infamous “yellow journalism” newspaper publisher of the early 20th century. Both despised ethnic minorities and sought to attack and undermine people of colour by pressuring the federal government into making marijuana, a recreational substance with no known physically addictive elements, illegal.
Blacks, Latinos and Natives were convicted and imprisoned for using the plant despite its history as a medicine and relaxant dating back thousands of years.
Anslinger and Hearst succeeded with the passage of the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which was strengthened by the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. The results would have pleased those two men as millions of people were charged for the possession and use of the plant which became demonized when it was referred to as an illegal drug with the negative stigmas attached. Blacks, Latinos and Natives were convicted and imprisoned for using the plant despite its history as a medicine and relaxant dating back thousands of years.
Native governments on both sides of the international border were also effected and cited marijuana as a communal evil and its users as deviants. By making the plant illegal the market for it was driven underground and came under the control of criminal elements who furthered qualified its usage by using force, bribery and intimidation as they sought to grow, manufacture, transport and sell marijuana.
Given its location astride the border and fairly close to most northeastern cities Akwesasne was targeted by the criminal cartels as an ideal place to bring marijuana into the United States. Akwesasnorons were hired to carry it across the St. Lawrence River and to distributors in Syracuse, Boston, New York City and other urban areas. This also resulted in arrests and imprisonment for dozens of Mohawk people. All because a plant noted for its positive healing affects on humans was deemed otherwise by Anslinger and Hearst.
Akwesasne straddles two countries, two Canadian provinces, one U.S. state, and the St. Lawrence River. Map created by Aimee, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Environment Division Geographic Information Systems. (Photo Credit: North Country Public Radio)
To the credit of Canada that stigma has been removed in the light of science, common sense and the acknowledgement.
To the credit of Canada that stigma has been removed in the light of science, common sense and the acknowledgement that marijuana ingestion and marijuana medical use is now an ingrained part of Canadian culture. Add to this the great financial profits the provinces and federal government stands to make by taxing the growing and selling of marijuana.
Native communities are, in some instances, in an ideal place to provide marijuana as a medicine and for recreational substance for the Canadian and soon to open New York markets. Some, like Tyendinaga, have moved quickly to open retail shops by the score in an act of free enterprise which is bringing in millions of dollars to that territory. The Mohawks there have experienced no problems with the exception of keeping up with demand. The Mohawk Council there did the wise thing and let the retailers oversee the operations and kept Ontario out of any external law enforcement actions. They did so by working out a regulatory system which benefits all.
Akwesasne is, once again, in an ideal location to respond to the need for industrial hemp and medical-recreational marijuana. The farms which were once located throughout the territory have long gone, a legacy of polluting industries such as Reynolds, Alcoa, Domtar and General Motors. Now that the land is healing it can be turned over to this new crop for which there will be great demand for many years to come. It remains for the local councils to work with the growers and to keep the alien police forces away from Mohawk lands.
There has never been a case of marijuana overdose.
For those who think that marijuana is somehow physically addictive or harmful the hard science does not bear this out. There has never been a case of marijuana overdose. It may be habit forming but it is not addictive. It produces euphoria and relaxation but does not drive its users into a “sexual frenzy” as Anslinger claimed.
There are many other plants which do produce similar effects; valerian, catnip, rosemary, lavender, licorice, passion flower-all known as sedatives which bring about calmness and a sense of well being. Others, like rhodiola and wild ginger are stimulants. All well known to Native healers which effect both mind and body.
There are plants which, unlike marijuana, are hallucinogenics. Peyote, salvia, ayahuasca, jimson weed, coca and 180 varieties of psilocybin mushrooms were known and used by Native people. And, also certain kinds of tobacco which, once ingested could also result in an altered state. None of these have been cited as outlaw plants on any Native territory and none have had the lethal impact of alcohol on indigenous people. Yet alcohol is now widely sold by Native businesses at Akwesasne despite the hard fact that it has killed hundreds of thousands of Natives including innumerable Mohawks.
How to explain this contradiction is a question for the people to bring up to their respective leadership, but soliciting outside police agencies to invade our territory, arrest and confine our people using the threat of deadly force and subjecting them to external courts with the possibility of jail terms is neither logical nor acceptable.
Violence as directed against the Mohawk people by one of its councils must never be a response to a communal need.
Within our traditional teachings lie the solution to this problem: reason, negotiation, compassion and rationality to arrive at a place where we are at peace. Violence as directed against the Mohawk people by one of its councils must never be a response to a communal need. It can be demonstrated that without a doubt marijuana is now of great benefit in many ways and must, naturally, find its way to the people. Retail outlets, such as those in Tyendinaga, have been proven to work.
In the end it is the will of the people which must prevail over any policy, license or regulation imposed by any council without first taking this issue before the community and gaining its approval. Directing cops to use force as a first step is dangerous for all, and is a mistake. Encouraging these kind of tactics, either subtly or directly, is also a grave error which sets up opposing sides: the people versus the councils. And all of this only serves the external governments which are all too happy to see that once again Mohawks are fighting other Mohawks based on what? A plant given to the human people to do exactly what it does best: heal.
Opinion: Native Languages Preserve Our Way of Thinking and Knowing
By Richard B. Williams (Oglala Lakota)
Last month, I had an exceptional opportunity to facilitate a convening of several “Native Language Doyens.” A “Native Language Doyen” is a leading figure who works tirelessly in language programs and activities in our Native communities. It was very stirring to see the spiritual essence that comes from our cultural language guardians who are reintroducing and saving our precious languages. The “Doyens” are – through their diligent hard work – producing fluent Native speakers throughout Indian Country.
During my lifetime, I’ve heard elders and medicine people eloquently and profoundly say that our languages are sacred. I never really understood what that meant until I had the opportunity to spend time thoroughly immersed in the Lakota language. The experience left me in awe of what it meant to learn a language. My first experience of understanding that the language was sacred came when, in a dream, I was speaking Lakota. The second experience was when I was cognitively processing the world around me in Lakota first and not English. I remember looking at this “sunka” and I realized that, in my mind, I used that term instead of dog. After that profound experience I would naturally and without dual cognitive processing see objects in Lakota and not in English.
The mysterious part of understanding that a language is sacred had nothing to do with the way we were learning the language. We weren't meditating nor were we praying constantly. We weren’t asking the Creator to help us learn the language. We were just simply immersed and totally focused on learning and experiencing the language. There was never really an “ah-ha moment” where I felt that somehow the experience was a sacred experience. It was an inner sense of knowing our people and the speaking of the language allowed our people to live in harmony and in a sacred way. The profound nature of the experience has changed me and heightened my path to learning more of the language. And even more importantly to understand the inviolability of visions and dreams. The unconscious act of dreaming in Lakota was a significant spiritual experience. One of the sacred ceremonies of Lakota is the hanblecha or vision quest, and dreams have always been a very important connection to the spirit world and Creator. There is no English word to express this feeling. In Lakota, we understand it as “Wakan” – a great mystery.
Tracey Moore is a member of the Osage, Otoe-Missouria, Pawnee and Sac & Fox tribes who aims to help keep their disappearing languages alive by learning, speaking and teaching them. (Photo Credit: Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman)
The opportunity to spend time with the language doyens was inspirational. Their knowledge of the language and its acquisition was complex, and each person had different ways to accomplish the goal of creating fluency among their people, especially in the children. The lifetime commitment made by each of the participants is notable. We had participants who were relatively young, as well as seasoned language veterans. An important message from each participant was that Native language acquisition and Western methodological educational practices are not symbiotic. Contemporary education practices that exist in schools today do not work well, and there is wealth of American Indian experts and current teachers who are very critical of the Western methodology and pedagogy. The message was clear: do not malign language immersion by force fitting it into existing education practices.
Language acquisition is important because, in practice, it has been demonstrated by many studies and testimony by practitioners that it improves and enhances a child’s confidence and self-image. It is well-documented that increasing a child’s self-worth is one of the most important aspects to their future success. The research also indicates that when the educational experience is culturally- and language-based, it produces a greater sense of well-being in a child. This knowledge is so compelling that it should behoove and compel all educational practitioners to alter their work to include language and cultural activities into their daily practices. The caution here is the reminder that the contemporary education system is failing our students, and we will only be successful if we make a complete change to the existing archaic way our children are being taught.
The second compelling reason for language in our schools has to do with enhanced cognitive development. Second-language speakers become better students because they are learning to process information in different parts of their brains. The cognition of language acquisition enhances critical thinking and improved learning intelligence. Recently it has been reported that it is good for the old folks. Learning a second language as an adult can help avoid cognitive decline, and it is reported that bilinguals come down with dementia and Alzheimer’s more than four years later than monolinguals. Although I regretfully inform you that age limits the ability to learn the language even if you were a child who spoke the language fluently.
Other advantages inherent in speaking a Native language is it introduces new words, concepts, metaphors and time frames. People who speak multiple languages tend to score higher on standardized tests in subjects such as math, reading and vocabulary.
We are living in a world that is foreign to us and would not be recognized by our ancestors. As we continue to adjust to the challenges of this changing world, it is comforting to know that to hold on to our languages means that we will continue to preserve our way of thinking and knowing. It is that sacred language and our good ways that will help us secure a place in this world, forever!
• • •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard B. Williams is the retired President & CEO of the American Indian College Fund. He now works as a consultant to First Nations Development Institute and other Native American organizations.
Lead Story Photo: The CUNY Graduate Center
National Museum of the American Indian in New York To Open Youth Education Center
The imagiNATIONS Activity Center Debuts May 17, 2018
In conjunction with its annual Children’s Festival, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center in New York will soon unveil its newest educational initiative, the imagiNATIONS Activity Center. The multimillion-dollar upgrade to the museum transforms office space into modernized educational and exhibition spaces. The content embraces STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, art, math) education and introduces young visitors to Native innovations across history that continue to impact modern life. The project marks the most extensive enhancement to the museum since opening its doors at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in 1994.
“The museum is undertaking a critical effort to enhance Native curricula not just in our own facilities, but in classrooms as well,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the National Museum of the American Indian. “With the addition of the imagiNATIONS Activity Center in New York, we are providing a learning environment suited to 21st-century students that helps us meet this goal. Tens of thousands of students from across the Tri-State area and beyond will experience imagiNATIONS; we aim to create a lasting impression for every one of them.”
The imagiNATIONS Activity Center opens Thursday, May 17, 2018. A press event will be held that morning at 10 a.m. with a welcome reception at 9:30 a.m. Members of the media may RSVP for the event by emailing NMAIpressoffice@si.edu or by calling (212) 514-3823. The opening day will also host an open house for educators. Later in the week, the museum will hold its annual Children’s Festival Saturday and Sunday, May 19–20, 2018, featuring special activities in conjunction with the opening.
The center’s content is the product of more than five years of research and consultation with Native experts in STEAM education. Along with its youth education mission, imagiNATIONS will also play host to teacher training and cross-cultural collaborations with Native communities through onsite and distance learning. The educational goal is to demonstrate the influence and impact of Native innovations and technologies on everyday life in ways that will engage visitors and stimulate their thinking—to convey Native innovations that shape how people live.
Media interactives, mechanical hands-on activities, handling objects and introductory texts and graphics will also stress the holistic Native American approach to innovation, critical thinking, creative problem solving and sustainability. The space’s various topical sections home in on themes of agriculture, physics, chemistry, mathematics, architecture and more. For more information and section descriptions, consult the imagiNATIONS Activity Center press kit: https://newsdesk.si.edu/kits/imaginations-activity-center-will-focus-native-innovation
As of December 2017, lead support for the National Museum of the American Indian’s imagiNATIONS Activity Center in New York is provided by the City of New York, with support from the Office of the Mayor, New York City Council and the Manhattan Borough President’s Office through the Department of Cultural Affairs; Valerie and Jack Rowe; The Rockefeller Foundation; and the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Major funding is provided by the Booth Ferris Foundation; The Walt Disney Co.; Margot and John Ernst; the George Gund Foundation in memory of George Gund III; and the National Council of the National Museum of the American Indian. Additional support is provided by Uschi and Bill Butler; Con Edison; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Golden Family Foundation; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; the Riverside Church Sharing Fund; the Rauch Foundation.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian
The National Museum of the American Indian is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the Native cultures of the Western Hemisphere—past, present and future—through partnership with Native people and others. The museum’s George Gustav Heye Center is located at One Bowling Green in New York City. For additional information, including hours and directions, visit AmericanIndian.SI.edu. Follow the museum via social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Children of Attawapiskat Have Potential
From News From Indian Country
Photos and story by Danny Beaton (www.dannybeaton.ca)
Brian Martin a Mohawk from Tyendinaga told me to call this elder who was a doctor working up north with people from Attawapiskat and gave me her card, which was the best news I had all last summer while I was researching the events at Attawapiskat that have been unfolding for several years now.
So when I called Dr A.A. Dunlop who was both positive and friendly I asked her if she knew any Natives in Attawapiskat who were using traditional native culture to heal and were there any people who she thought I could connect with after telling her my back ground with Native Child and Family Services, 6 Saint Josephs and Queen West Health Center.
Dr Dunlop gave me the phone number of the Mental Health unit in Attawapiskat and told me to said ask for Jane or Peggy and tell them I was a Mohawk elder who wants to help by bringing native ceremonies to the community for healing and unity with Cree elders who were healing, using traditional Native ceremonies.
When I called the Attawapiskat hospital and asked for Peggy or Jane the person I spoke to said it sounded like I needed to talk to Joe Tipp the head of Health Canada in Attawapiskat because Peggy and Jane were not there that day.
I immediately called Joe Tipp or Joe Tippeneskum, Cree elder and explained that I was being funded to assist in culture and ceremonies and my back ground of organizing healing activities to assist the elders and youth who were suffering in their community was my desire.
Joe Tipp was more than positive for me to connect with and he explained the youth were taking a lead in trying to bring back traditional Cree culture but could use my skills in organizing events that would unite the elders and youth in Attawapiskat. Joe said there were several youth organizing the sacred sweat lodge ceremony and if I was free at night it would be good to join them.
Joe mentioned we could work together in the Secondary School presenting traditional Native culture to the youth in grades nine to thirteen and anyone interested in hearing our message. As it turned out, Joe and I did present at Vezina Secondary for one morning last October.
Afterwards I gave the Traditional Iroquois Thanksgiving Address, a prayer like poem honoring creation by giving great thanks to the plant life, waters, and relatives, addressing creation and everything that moves on Mother earth, in the sky and all that is invisible.
My understanding of our Thanksgiving ceremony is it is equivalent to smoking the pipe for the Lakota or any Indigenous way of giving thanks or respecting the gifts of the universe and Mother Earth.
We answered questions that the students had later and I shared several songs on my native flutes which I play for healing and meditating the spirit and mind.
The students I could see were glad to see a Mohawk and Cree elder working together for the protection of Mother Earth and the future of seven generations to come. We explained that we were working for the benefit of all children not just our own and that every child deserved to be treated with respect and dignity.
Then I explained how our Mohawk spiritual leader Tom Porter viewed all men as brothers and all women as sisters in our way of life in our country and that it was no different in Attawapiskat. I explained that in the Indigenous way of life in North America, the first law of the land for Indigenous people alike, is respect and that respect was the first law of the land.
We talked about art and the sacredness of healing through communicating through all forms of the arts writing, drawing, singing, photography, film making even talking.
When my partner and I go to the bush down south we rent a car and leave Friday night or Saturday mornings just to get to the forest, but in Attawapiskat you are surrounded by forest and bush.
Down south when we leave Toronto for Georgian Bay there are one hundred thousand people with us leaving the city.
In Attawapiskat there are only two thousand Cree, no one else except non-native teachers and nurses who are also care givers trying to help the community in every capacity.
You have the cleanest and freshest air in the world right here in Attawapiskat I love it there. It is so quiet I can fall asleep any time you lay down to rest.
We are living in a concrete jungle back home. People have forgotten how to live simply down south in Toronto and my wife was the best person I ever met who tried to live like a Zen monk. But you can still live a good life right there in Attawapiskat.
Once you finish high school in Attawapiskat you can travel down south to get a college or university degree if that is what you want, then you will have the education and freedom to earn a good living.
But you need the tools to earn a living or express yourself and to communicate for yourself or community. In Attawapiskat you are surrounded by animals, water, forest, birds and natural life. Sometimes it is hard to see what you have when it is right in front of you. I love Attawapiskat and I love the Cree people because they too are pure in their own community, but here only drugs, alcohol and trauma hurt you.
When my mother was put into residential school and she lost her culture and my uncles and my aunt too all Indian people in Canada lost their culture when it started. Mohawks, Ojibway, Cree, Inuit, Haida, Algonquin, etc... Indigenous people down south recovered in a big way and many indigenous people healed from residential school down south, but I see the Cree are still suffering from Culture Shock and residential school trauma.
Our elders say when you take away the ceremonies and way of life for natives you are taking away their wisdom and connection to Mother Earth Once a person has been traumatized they need help or healing by therapist or native ceremonies.
Personally when I see how happy our people are, it usually is when they were raised with ceremonial parents. There is something beautiful in every culture once you take out the alcohol and drugs, so in that way, we all have been wounded a little.
In Six Nations, our ceremonies are still going and there are may social events that bring our people together for honoring Mother Earth and Creation. Today I see many young people and adults looking for their native roots and culture because they see how broken and lost society has become.
If the Cree people can get their ceremonies and cultural roots back, then they will not be hurt or broken.
People have to be reminded just like our elders had to remind us here over and over again until we started learning and healing, we are all learning till our last breath but we have no right to take our own life, only our Great Creator can take a life when our time is up.
Life is so sacred every minute, when times get tough we need to seek help to work out difficulties and what seems too hard to bear. If we had the positive teachers and healers in our life things would not get so bleak. We all need positive energy positive thoughts and beauty, love, respect, companionship, creativity and peace without this in our world, negativity gets in and destroys our health.
The residential school system did not take care of native youth or people and it broke the culture and our way of life.
This has to be said in the case of Attawapiskat because I heard it from the people, community and nurses and teachers too! Many northern communities need healing and resources fast!
When I look the faces of the children I worked with I am ecstatic from the Cree beauty! The idiosyncrasy of the children come from the earth, wetlands, marsh, moose, bear, wolf, deer and wounded parents. When I study trauma this is what I see in Attawapiskat!
Many aspects of a child’s health physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability. Drug and alcohol abuse are a symptom of the pain never healed from residential school and it creates all forms of mental trauma for Indigenous people everywhere.
We need our native values and culture more than ever to fill our mind, body and spirit with that kind of medicine.
Like my uncle said, “Danny the kids need to see us laughing and having fun. They need to see us working together singing, starting a sacred fire, loading our pipes, eating together, praying, doing our Sacred Ceremonies in unity the way it was before residential school at the beginning.
In Memory of Alicja Rozanska