Oneida Nation photo
Oneida Nation Councilman Kirby Metoxen (center) is joined by Department of the Interior (DOI) Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland (left) and Secretary Deb Haaland (right) while attending the DOI’s “Road to Healing” listening session in Pellston, Michigan, August 13, 2022. The Michigan stop is one of several the DOI has planned for 2022-2023 as they continue to compile testimony from boarding school survivors.
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More than a year after United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formed the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to investigate atrocities committed against Native children at the 408 boarding school facilities, she is visiting a number of tribal communities to connect and hear about survivor’s experiences directly. Called the Department of Interior’s (DOI) “Road to Healing Tour,” Haaland hopes the year-long, cross-country visits will help address the intergenerational impact of the boarding schools and promote spiritual and emotional healing in Native communities. Listening sessions have so far taken place in Hawaii and Michigan, with stops planned for Arizona, California, and South Dakota in the coming weeks. Additional tour stops will be announced for 2023 in the near future.
Oneida Nation Councilman Kirby Metoxen attended the “Road to Healing Tour” stop August 13 in Pellston, Michigan, as part of his commitment to the Oneida Business Committee’s Broad Goals of Health and Safety, and Culture and Language. The Little Travers Bay Bands of Odawa Indians hosted the event. “This was the second stop for the listening sessions and more than 800 Native peoples from all over the Midwest were in attendance,” Metoxen said. “We listened to firsthand testimonials about how boarding schools affected them, and a pattern I noticed beginning to develop was back in those days it was common for Native families to have seven, 8, or nine children.
“Resulting from that, I kept hearing people say how they recall priests, nuns, or Indian agents coming to their homes and straight up asking them which children they didn’t want or need,” Metoxen said. “Families were so overwhelmed in those days and there was, and still is, a lot of poverty in Native communities. So, the churches would come and make all kinds of promises and take the kids. We heard so much testimony about the trauma of being taken to these places, having their hair forcibly cut, and everything else that goes with those boarding schools.”
While the listening sessions were open to the public, event organizers restricted testimony to boarding school survivors and their descendants. “Unfortunately, not everybody who wanted to speak had the chance to do so,” Metoxen said. “There were a lot of elder speakers and of course we needed to give them time to say their piece. More than 300 tribes were invited to these sessions, so that’s a lot of testimony.”
Secretary Haaland did little speaking, instead choosing to listen to survivors and descendants as they shared their experiences. “She listened to all the horror stories,” Metoxen said. “She heard firsthand how angry people are for the things they went through. They weren’t angry at her, but you could feel the pain as they were speaking. Just the ability to be heard is all part of the healing process.”
The DOI is using testimony collected at these sessions to help determine the next steps to be taken by the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. To learn more about the DOI’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and to see Volume 1 of their Investigative Report released in May 2022, please visit the following link: Department of the Interior Releases Investigative Report, Outlines Next Steps in Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative | U.S. Department of the Interior (doi.gov).