'We all had a vision of telling these stories'

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today newscast for Wednesday July 29 with guests Janet Cantley and Tsianina Lomawaima

Patty Talahongva
Indian Country Today

In the late 1800s the U.S. Government started forcibly taking Native American children from their families and placing them in boarding schools. It was an effort to assimilate them. The idea came from Henry Pratt, an officer in the Army. He infamously said this police was meant to "Kill the Indian in him and save the man."   

Thousands of children, some as young as four, were taken from their tribes and placed in these government run schools. This history is not taught in public schools. In fact, you have to do some research to find out the scope of this government policy. 

In 2000, the Heard Museum in Phoenix created an exhibit to show the effects of the boarding school system. In 2017 that exhibit was updated. Today, the Heard Museum's exhibit called, "Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories," is being honored with a national award. 

Guests include Janet Cantley, curator of the exhibit and Tsianina Lomawaima, Mvskoke (Creek) Nation, and advisor to the exhibit.  

Here are a few of Lomawaima's comments: 

“Well, even at the beginning, the exhibit, it was really the brainchild of Margaret Archuleta who worked for the Heard in the late 1990s, Margaret was the one who really brought this project to fruition and she assembled the first group of consultants that included myself, Brenda Child, Red Lake Ojibwe, Karen Gayton Comeau who's from Standing Rock, Rena Green who's Cherokee, was a wonderful group that came together to bring this vision to reality.”

“I think we all had a vision of telling these stories and bringing these stories to light.”

“I think it's possible that folks at the Heard at that time in the late 1990s didn't quite understand the impact the exhibit would have, but they certainly came to understand that very quickly, especially in terms of bringing Native people into the museum as exhibit viewers and not just people who produce programs. I think that impact was really profound and really impressed the staff at the Heard.”

“Well, we wanted to have a graphic and tangible, real example of that first day or first entry impact of a child entering one of these institutions. Particularly, in the early years when that was quite a harsh indoctrination. And we found over time that that barber chair has resonated deeply with people. It really, it doesn't just symbolize, it tangibly shows, tangibly illustrates the profound changes that the federal system wanted to impose on Native children, this complete transformation of identity and self, beginning with the physical body, cutting people's hair off."

"It wasn't always complete of course, because these Native children were strong and resilient. That barber chair, it tries to mobilize the power of what a museum exhibit can do. Physical, tangible objects that tell a story.”

Here are a few comments from Cantley: 

“I think that a really important part is just gathering those many stories and Tsianina, you know, impressed upon us by the fact that there is no one story, although that would be the easiest way to present an exhibit. But because there are so many varied experiences and depends on the time period that the school was attended and depends on which school that was attended. It depends on the tribal affiliation. There are so many components that influenced that experience and the schools did change over time. So that also is a factor.”

“Again, a big part of the story is the military officer Pratt, who started the boarding schools and modeled them after military schools. So you have that, especially in the earliest years of assimilation, a very military style school with children dressed in uniforms. They were formed into companies by age and gender, and they drilled and they marched to their classes. They marched to food service and everything was conducted in a military system."

"And it turned out that a lot of the recruitment or the military was done based on that training. Many of the students went on to serve in the military.”

“So you begin to see at the federal level reforms coming into place after a report called the Meriam report that was published in 1928 and a lot of reforms under the John Collier administration with the Indian reorganization act and then mid 1930s.”

“I really think the changes and at least the undercurrent of resistance was from the start just as Tsianina referred to these children were strong, they kept connections to the community, whether it was through letters they also would speak languages informally in that dorm setting, or if they were out to the woods, they would have a stomp dance.”

It is a national award, the American Association of State Local History awarded the Heard the award of excellence for the exhibit. And we're very excited.”

“We have a traveling exhibit. It's a program called NEH On The Road and it is an initiative for the National Endowment for the Humanities to take exhibitions that they have contributed and funded and allowed development of smaller scale exhibits that can travel to cities all around the United States.”

“We have 24 venues that this 2000 square foot exhibit will travel to, with their own photographs and the video interviews that we have as well as objects. So it's really exciting to be able to get the message out to all of those places.”

Aliyah Chavez, reporter/producer for Indian Country Today gives the latest update on Election 2020 and hilights the space mission to Mars that will carry the work of a Navajo engineer. Here are a few of her comments: 

“On Monday, the Biden campaign rolled out its policy agenda for women. Then Tuesday, the campaign hosted a one hour panel held through a video conference. Some of them included Representative Deb Haaland, the Chief of the Mohegan Tribe Lynn Malerba and Fawn Sharp, who is the president of the National Congress of American Indians.”

“And the conversations during the round table were quite informative. The panelists who are experts on a number of these subjects spoke about protections for violence against Native women. They talked about the need for increased funding and education, healthcare, and even elder care. They even took it a step further to talk about the need for communities in Indian country to be politically active.”

“Representative Haaland encouraged Native women to run for office. And she talked extensively about having a seat at the table. She also talked about voting being, quote, ‘one of the most effective ways to ensure that candidates we care about and who care about us get into office.’”

“The next round of primaries, we'll be watching happen less than a week from now on August 4th. Right now we are following 12 candidates from Kansas and Arizona. The most notably being Representative Sharice Davids of Kansas who is running for reelection. She doesn't have any opponents in her primary election. So we'll watch for updates for the other 11 candidates next Tuesday night.”

"The spacecraft named, Perseverance, will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday morning, the perseverance Rover is being sent to Mars and it's trip to get there will last seven months because it has to travel more than 300 million miles.”

“The goal of sending the rover is to explore signs of ancient life that may have existed on the red planet. It will collect rock and soil samples through a drill bit that is being dug into the surface of Mars. And then it will collect samples and tubes.”

“What's special is that a Navajo mechanical engineer named Aaron Yazzie was the lead engineer for the rovers drill bits. He worked on the project for more than four years and says he's quite excited to see part of his work being launched into outer space. Aaron will be posting photos and videos on Indian Country Today's social media pages. So feel free to follow us at Indian country Today to learn more about his project and the Rover.”

“And what's important to know is that Aaron actually already has a piece of hardware on Mars.”

“Aaron built a pressure inlet on the Mars insight Lander, which is already on Mars now and already doing a bunch of experiments there on Mars, but he has a much bigger role in, in the Mars 2020 Rover."

“Normally at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is located in Pasadena, California, they have an auditorium with huge screens and everybody, the whole team who put together watches it on some projectors. But unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic has changed everyone's life. So he says, he'll be watching it at home from the comfort of his couch.”

Also in the newscast, Jourdan Bennett-Begaye has the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 tests in Indian Country.

The anchor and executive producer of the newscast is Patty Talahongva.

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