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Presidential support sought for boarding school apology

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – A petition’s journey will extend nearly 7,000 miles across the U.S. to carry a petition to President Barack Obama requesting a formal apology to Indian country for boarding school atrocities and intergenerational trauma.

“We ask you to join the leaders of Canada and Australia by apologizing to First Nations people here for what was allowed to happen to children at the schools, and for the scars of hurt and pain that it left on generations of Native American people,” the petition states.

What is believed to be one of the primary causes of historical trauma among Native people – the widespread abuse of Native children at early boarding schools supported by the U.S. government – will be the emphasis of the journey, said Don Coyhis, a key organizer.

Nearly 500 boarding schools were founded by the government to assimilate Native people, according to a statement.

Coyhis is president and founder of White Bison Inc., a Colorado Springs nonprofit organization which is sponsoring the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness, named after White Bison’s sobriety program for Native communities.

A growing body of evidence suggests the “trauma experienced by Native American children at the schools is largely responsible for the alarming levels of suicides, substance abuse, domestic violence and child sexual abuse in Native American communities,” the petition states.

The petition will begin its journey May 16 from present-day Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Ore. cross-country to the first Indian school at Carlisle, Penn. and on to closing ceremonies the week of June 22 at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., where it will be read and a healing ceremony and boarding school-themed speeches and events will take place.

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No monetary reparations are sought from the government, but the apology is wanted to “promote a collective healing of all Americans for this tragic chapter in our nation’s history,” states the petition for which signatures are being collected online and elsewhere.

The 40-day, 6,800-mile journey was originally envisioned as a relay bicycle trip, but planners decided time would not allow for both the relay and ceremonies at the boarding schools, so participants will drive to the sites and then walk White Bison’s Sacred Hoop of 100 Eagle Feathers into the schools.

The journey is undertaken in the spirit of the widespread Native white buffalo calf prophecy, according to which the birth of a white bison – which occurred in 1994 – would “signal a time of great healing for all Nations.”

At the boarding school sites, day-long awareness workshops are planned, talking circles will be facilitated, and healing ceremonies are to be conducted by local tribal elders and mental health professionals, Coyhis said.

Other Native communities will be encouraged to recognize June 2009 as National Forgiveness Month.

Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan. is including the journey as one of its 125th anniversary commemorative events. The new Wes Studi movie screened at Sundance Film Festival is about a boy who runs away from the Haskell Boarding School, which later became the university.

In addition to Haskell, Chemawa and Carlisle Indian Schools, proposed stops along the journey include boarding school sites or schools still open in Warm Springs, Ore.; Fort Hall, Idaho; Riverton, Wyo. (St. Stephens High School, open); Carson City, Nev.; Riverside, Calif. (Sherman Indian School, open); Phoenix, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Anadarko, Okla. (Riverside Indian School, open); El Reno, Okla.; Tahlequah, Okla. (Sequoyah High School, open); Genoa, Neb.; Flandreau, S.D. (Flandreau Indian School, open); Morris, Minn.; White Earth, Minn.; Red Lake, Minn.; Cass Lake, Minn.; Lac du Flambeau, Wis.; Oneida, Wis.; Mt. Pleasant, Mich.; and Gowanda, N.Y.