Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 23, 2014

Day 2 Boarding School Tribunal Green Bay

Jean Whitehorse, Dine' (Navajo)
Photo Brenda Norrell

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin -- The Tribunal on the Devastating Impacts of Boarding Schools began the second day with Jean Whitehorse, Dine' (Navajo) speaking on Native rights and the sterilization of Indian women. 

Whitehorse said she went to the hospital in intense pain, and was asked to sign papers.

"Besides taking out my appendix, they sterilized me," said Whitehorse, of the sterilization carried out without her knowledge at Gallup Indian Hospital.

At that time, the US government published a pamphlet promising many horses to the Native American women who did not have many children.

"I'm proud I had one daughter before they did this to me."

Whitehorse spoke of her heroes, including Navajo women resisting relocation at Big Mountain and her own grandmother.

Native Women Testify

During a panel of testimony, Kim Oseira, Alaskan Native and survivor of the Holy Cross Mission Orphanage in Holy Cross, Alaska, said always in life these experiences give you both pain and beauty.

"We were punished a lot, so we learned how to tell lies."

"We knew extensively that if we told the truth we would be punished."

She remembered being punished and having to move all the beds in the dormitory. She was around nine or ten and had to scrub the brown floors until they were white. She wanted to finish the final small area, when the nun grabbed her wrist and threw her.

"We starved. The nuns did not feed us properly."

Oseira read from her interview with Mary Annette Pember, when she described what happened to her and her sister in those boarding schools.

"The boarding school, located along the Yukon River, over 400 miles from Fairbanks, was officially called an orphanage in church records. Holy Cross Mission was founded in 1880 near the village of Holy Cross, a community of Athabascan and Yupik Eskimos ."

"Oseira, 73, has come forward to tell her story because, she says, 'It is time.' Over several hours and multiple interviews she takes us through her childhood years at the Jesuit orphanage, sharing memories that she once thought were “completely blotted out."

There are few adults in Oseira’s earliest memories. She seemed to be alone even at age five in Nome, Alaska, where she was the primary care giver for her sister, Della Mae, two years younger. I was responsible for feeding her, changing her diapers, teaching her how to go potty, everything,” she recalls.

Later she learned that her birth parents, non-Native father and Alaska Native mother, were chronic alcoholics. Oseira was five years old in 1945 when her mother was sent to a TB sanatorium and suddenly everything changed.

“All I remember is desperately holding onto Della Mae. For some reason we were each wearing new dresses and carrying dolls. We’d never had dolls before. Della Mae wore blue and I wore pink,” she recalls.

Madonna Thunderhawk, Lakota from Cheyenne River, South Dakota, remembered her mother and her experiences in boarding schools in South Dakota.

Thunderhawk described how the abuse in boarding schools, and freezing of emotions of her mother's generations continued into the next generation.
"She would say, 'You think you have it tough.'" Her mother did not speak of her experiences until she was elderly.

"We were scared silent," her mother said.

Her mother learned not to run away. If a child ran away, all the children were marched into one room of the boarding school. They cut off all their hair.

"Then they would string them up and flog them," Thunderhawk remembered.
The children never made a sound.

When they were discovered speaking their own language, they had to kneel on beans on the floor for long periods of time.
But later, in high school, her mother changed boarding schools and became a champion tennis player.

Thunderhawk said as she grew up, she grew up with a stern mother, who provided well for them, but suffered the lack of emotion that resulted from being abused in boarding school.

Thunderhawk said she patterned herself after her mother, and now regrets how stern she was with her own children.

Thunderhawk said she is glad her own children are now breaking that cycle. She credits the American Indian Movement with the change that took place in her own children and praised them for the good choices they are making.

Thunderhawk remembered her own boarding school experience, and her head being dumped in kerosene and then wrapped in towels. "No one said a word."
"You didn't cry, you didn't show any emotion."

Thunderhawk said in her own generation in boarding school, the abuse came from other children, the bullies.

"I had to protect my sister. I didn't become a bully, but I became tough."

Thunderhawk said she realized, "We had no parenting skills." As a result, "We have all this dysfunction in our families." She said it is the same all over the world, including Australia. Today there are alcohol and drugs, and no parenting skills, as a result of the inter-generational trauma because of abuse in boarding schools.

Today, Thunderhawk devotes herself to halting the abuse being carried out by US Social Services. Children are still being ripped from their homes.
"It is still going on."

A Menominee elder, 93, from Wisconsin spoke sadly about how she wants to go back to the family farm. She remembered her own parents, and said they were in Carlisle Boarding School.

"We were punished for things we couldn't help, things that were not their own fault."
"The school is gone, the fence is gone, but the memories are still there."

She said she is thankful that the school is no longer there. "It was abusive."

"We're Native Americans. We are not Indians. We were here when Columbus came."

Yvonne Swan is Sinixt, "People of the Arrow Lakes, of the Colville Confederated Tribes from Washington state.

"They thought that sending us to a boarding school was advantageous. They thought we would get a good education."
Remembering her grandfather, she said, "He named us after the ancestors."

Swan's grandfather said it was necessary so that when they passed on, the Spirits would recognize them.

Speaking about the purpose of the Boarding School Tribunal, Swan said it is important to heal.

"The United States took a lot of things from our people."

"We have to come from deep within, and get all that out."

Sharing her own experience, she said she had a "free floating fear." She described when an intruder came into her home and she acted to protect her family.

Describing her own experience in a mission boarding school, she said her parents were poor, but they sent a little money to the mission. This meant she was treated a little better than some others.

But still, the conditioning, and the religious teaching about sin, left her feeling bad about herself.

"What kind of sins are a little six-year-old going to commit?"

She questioned why girls and boys were treated differently.

Swan became sick from the mission boarding school food. She would climb into the hills and eat the roots and sunflowers for healing. The boarding school seldom took the children to the doctor.

Speaking about the boarding school, she said, "They censored our letters from our families. They probably wanted to see if we were going to get any money." She never received all the letters her family sent her.

While cleaning the kitchen in the boarding school, she saw the steaks and fresh fruit that the teachers and staff would eat. The children ate brown mush called "dynamite."

Swan's cousins would wet their bed and they were shamed and forced to sit in a tub of ice water. They were slapped and forced to sleep on beds of straw.

There was a pattern: "Ridicule, beat us down, make us tell untruths so we wouldn't be punished."

"The priests had two straps. The 'little suzy' was used on little girls." The boys were hit with the "black might" strap.

The nuns hit the children with a ruler until the children's hands would bleed.
Swan said tearfully that many of the children turned to alcohol and died of suicide and in car accidents.

"There were six people in my family that took their lives."

"One of my nieces hanged herself in jail. One of my nephews hanged himself in tribal jail."

Three of her nephews shot themselves.
This is historical trauma.

"You feel so alone."

In boarding school, the children were taught about Jesus, the Bible, brotherhood. "But you can't relate -- you have to march, you have to stand, there is no love."

Swan described how her sister was grabbed and held by a priest, and the unwanted embrace ended when someone entered the room.

She described how the children of the survivors went on to spank their own children too hard, out of fear, fear of predators, fear of the dangers out there.

Swan described her aunt's sickness from hunger in boarding school. Her aunt asked another for her orange peelings to eat because she was so hungry. The orange peelings were thrown on the ground, and the person said, "Go get them you pig."

She described how her brother was kicked in the back, and ran away. It took him 10 days walking through the snow and over the mountain.

One child was knocked down to the bottom of the stairs for speaking her language.

Children read stories from Boarding Schools

During the second day of the Tribunal, Oneida children read stories from boarding school experiences. They shared the story of one boy who was slapped for telling the truth about writing his name in his own dictionary. Another read the story of a child who was beaten because she could not defend herself from false accusations because she did not speak English.

Second panel of witnesses on Thursday

Roxanna Banguis, Ed.D., Tlingit, Haida and Sechelt, said her mother told her that there were a lot of beatings in the boarding school in Sechelt B.C. Her mother was very sick for a long time. She was never cared for by a doctor. It was the other children who brought her food.

Her mother was sexually molested by the older boys. Those boys learned these sexual acts from the people that worked at the boarding school and the boys were repeating the sexual abuse that happened to them.

When the school partially burned down, skeletons of babies were found in the walls.

"The sexual molesters, the predators, found a job where they can abuse children."

But Native people were not vanished, they were not disappeared as a people.

"We are still here," she said. She pointed out that this history of boarding schools "has been swept under the carpet."

"The worst is the baby skeletons they found in those walls. We don't know if those were Native Americans, or from the nuns." She said the nuns were not celibate.

Grand Chief Terrance Nelson of the Southern Chiefs Organization is vice chairman of the American Indian Movement.

"The reason my heart is in AIM is they won't put up with the crap that has been done to our people."

Chief Nelson described the influences in his life, from the American Indian Movement to Malcom X. He also spoke of the children killed by the United States in Iraq and his trips to Iraq and Iran.
Chief Nelson said he understands the psychology of abuse and control that was used on Indian children in boarding schools.

"In order to wipe out people, you have to dehumanize them."

"You have to take their children away from them."

Chief Nelson told the story of James, 10 years old. James was in boarding school with Chief Nelson's mother. The first time he ran away, they shaved his head. The second time he ran away, they made James stand weighted down with a ball and chain in the hall, where he would feel shame as the children passed by.

Then he ran away a third time.

"The principle strapped him up and down his arm." But James did not cry. Then the principle strapped him up and down his other arm. It took a long time, but they finally made James cry.

Years later, James was stabbed to death, when he was an alcoholic on the street.
What they did that day with the strappings was for the control of the other children.
Chief Nelson remembered his mother's words. "I learned to cry and cry fast, so they would leave me alone."

Chief Nelson said, "When you want to control someone, you make sure they understand the consequences."

Chief Nelson said Mohammad Ali was one of his heroes. "He refused to be told what to think."

"We refuse to be told who we are," he said of the American Indian Movement.

Chief Nelson said youths should not be encouraged to think of themselves as victims.

"We are not 10 year olds watching James get beaten."

He said today there are 10,000 children in Manitoba in the care system.

"Why are we doing this right now to our own children today."

Milton "Grasshopper" Bazinau, of Mackinac Island in northern Michigan, said he had to come here today to tell his story. Milton described being sexually abused by a priest at the age of five, and the shame and heartache of standing there with blood running down his leg.

"I carry a lot of pain."

The priest told him that he would kill him and kill his family if he ever told anyone.
Milton said it is fear that keeps people from understanding one another.

"They were trying to destroy us rather than understand us."

Milton said his mother never wanted to be known as Native American. He said he forgives his mother, who began having children at 15. "She was a child raising children."

Milton said he found his way back to himself through Indian culture and the Sundance.

"If I hadn't been a Sundancer, I wouldn't be alive today," Milton said.

During the afternoon session of the Tribunal, the testimony of Mitch Walking Elk was read into the record. Dennis Banks also spoke on the abuse in boarding schools. Describing being called a terrorist by the FBI later in life, Banks said, "These names that they called me mean nothing."

Testimonies of abuse in boarding schools by children kidnapped from their families were also read into the record on Thursday, including the testimony of imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier who was stolen from his family as a child in North Dakota.

The testimony on Thursday was followed by a Pipe Ceremony.

The Boarding School Tribunal continues all day on Friday, with a banquet on Friday night. Earthcycles will provide livestreaming again on Friday.

Dennis Banks, Bill Means, Grand Chief Terrance Nelson
Photo Brenda Norrell

Day 3 Preliminary conclusions and testimony
More Testimony from Day 3:
Day 2
Day 1
Peltier's statement
Livestream videos

Watch live streaming video from earthcycles at
Follow live sessions on Wednesday through Friday
Oct. 22 -- 25, 2014
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Earthcycles and Censored News are live in Green Bay!
Information on the Tribunal

Community Feast during Boarding School Tribunal on Thursday evening/Blues Skies photo

Article copyright Brenda Norrell.


Madonna Thunder Hawk said...

Brenda, thank you for this blog CENSORED NEWS ! Thanks to my grandchildren and others in my circle i'm catching up to the cyber world !! I haven't posted on my new blog you helped me create but I'm going to give it a try today. Again, I want to thank you for all the work you've done over the years, I am totally impressed. I am CENSORED NEWS new best fan !

Censored News, publisher Brenda Norrell said...

Thank you Madonna, especially for sharing the story of the young boy whose bones were broken at the age of four. Best to you and your family, Brenda