The AT&T Center for Indigenous Politics and Policy at the George Washington University led a panel of nationally-recognized Native American experts at the first national conference on Indian boarding schools.
“We are honored that our first conference panel was selected for the first national conference on Indian boarding schools,” director of the center Wendy Helgemo said. The conference, “The Spirit Survives: A National Movement Toward Healing,” was held by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, location of the Carlisle Indian School.
The panel, “Rethinking, Repurposing, and Reclaiming Indian Boarding Schools,” included Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, and Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, and was moderated by Elizabeth Rule, assistant director of the center.
“The concept of Indian boarding schools instituted across this nation is largely unknown by U.S. citizens,” Rupert stated. “Through the repurposing of the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada, we are educating the public about this era of assimilation of our people. And, through this platform we are creating a conduit for those thousands of students to finally tell their stories. Voiceless for so long, they will finally be heard.”
“Indian Country continues to search for healing over the loss of their young people who carry on the culture, language and values of their Nations,” Keller O’Loughlin observed. “Part of that healing is appropriating and repurposing those institutions to support tribal self-determination, and ensuring that those children who lived and died in those institutions are today respected and rest in peace.”
“We were inspired to bring together a group of leaders from across Indian Country to talk about this reclaiming which is so important to many of our Native American communities and families,” Rule reflected. “This panel gave us an opportunity to discuss critical issues for moving forward in healing and in a positive way.”
Indian boarding schools emerged in the late 1800s to teach children labor skills, assimilate them into Euro-American society, and separate them from their tribes, families and culture. Infamously, General Richard Henry Pratt, founder and superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School, described these military-style schools as a means to “kill the Indian, save the man.”