Orange flags placed in remembrance of Native American boarding schools

Abigail Wyche, special adviser for campus mental health and wellness at Northern Michigan University, installs orange flags near the academic mall on campus Sunday to honor the victims and survivors of abuse in Native American boarding schools in the United States and Canada. Wyche was one of many supporters who installed flags, which will be displayed throughout the week. Below, other supporters place flags. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — The Northern Michigan University campus got more colorful on Sunday morning, and for many people, it was for a very good reason.

Individuals from the regional Native American community and supporters installed numerous orange flags at the academic mall on campus to honor the victims and survivors of abuse in Native American boarding schools in the United States and Canada.

Joe Lubig, department head of the Center for Native American Studies at NMU, said the flag installation was to create awareness for the victims of what he called “educational and spiritual colonization.”

These Native boarding schools were part of systems designed to disenfranchise Native people and involved the forced removal of children from their homes into the schools, orphanages, labor camps and work camps, Lubig said. Those facilities carried through to the 1960s, although the boarding schools, likely in different versions, were still in existence into the 1980s.

Lubig said the flags will be displayed throughout the week with Friday being Orange Shirt Day, which was started by a boarding school survivor and includes a different T-shirt design every year.

Other supporters place flags. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

“We’ll promote Orange Shirt day in remembrance of and respect for (victims and survivors),” Lubig said.

Tyler LaPlaunt, Unit 5 representative, director and treasurer for the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, spoke at Sunday’s event.

“The first steps to healing are recognition and understanding, and I think that’s a direction we’re on today,” said LaPlaunt, who noted that Sunday’s event was the start of a healing process and will affect future generations.

LaPlaunt thanked the NMU Native American Student Association and local residents for their support.

“This is deep rooted for all of us,” LaPlaunt said. “A lot of us don’t know who we are, don’t know where we came from and we are still struggling to understand and grasp our culture — and it was the boarding schools that ultimately did that to us, to our families.”

According to NMU’s Center for Native American Studies, early colonial practices including taking Native American children away from their families and communities and housing them in the homes of European colonists while they were educated. In 1860, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs opened the first government-run school for Native Americans.

However, patterns of deplorable living conditions were discovered.

The CNAS indicated that efforts are being made to address the consequences of the assimilative boarding school era and the ongoing intergenerational impacts of boarding school policies.

LaPlaunt acknowledged that although he is not a direct victim of the boarding schools, he is a first-generation survivor of those schools.

“Religious freedom doesn’t just happen overnight,” he said. “Our culture just did not come back to us overnight, so recognizing the atrocities that happened to all of our ancestors and the lost children that will never be able to speak on our behalf again — this is an important first step.”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.


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