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'Road to Healing' tour visits northern Michigan to hear stories of boarding school survivors

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited Michigan to speak with survivors of Native American boarding schools. It's part of a tour called "The Road to Healing." (Samuel Corum/Getty)
Samuel Corum
Getty Images
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will speak with survivors of Native American boarding schools as part of a tour called "The Road to Healing." Her department found that between 1819 and 1969, the federal government operated or supported more than 400 schools.

Members of tribal nations from around the upper Midwest gathered this weekend in Pellston to share a difficult part of their past.

RESOURCES: Survivors and descendants can get 24-hour, toll-free crisis support through the National Indian Residential School Crisis Hotline at 866-925-4419. There's also the Strong Hearts Native Helpline, is 844-762-8483.

As recently as the late 20th century, the federal government operated boarding schools which were known for their mistreatment of Native children and the suppression of indigenous languages and practices.

The Road to Healing Tour is the federal government’s effort to collect stories from people who survived those boarding schools and their descendants. On Saturday, the tour stopped in northern Michigan, at an event attended by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bryan Newland, assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs.

Survivors of the schools, and the descendants of those who were at the schools, were invited to testify.

"When you carry that trauma, that pain, for so long, being able to spill it out without judgement helps release that part that has weighed down on your shoulders," said reporter Sierra Clark, who covers indigenous affairs for the Traverse City Record-Eagle and was at the event.

Clark is Kichi Wiikwedong Odawa, and said this is the first time the federal government has listened to the testimony of boarding school survivors.

The boarding schools also impacted her family. At the meeting, Clark said she felt the generational pain and grievances, but also saw strength and resilience.

"I saw that in the babies wearing ribbon skirts and shirts, and the room just being engulfed in freshly lit medicines, and seeing a young boy at the drum with his father, singing his traditional songs in our language," she said. "Despite everything that the U.S. boarding schools tried to rip from us, I saw so much resilience that day as well."

Clark says the next steps for the federal government include identifying any unmarked burial sites at the former institutions, as well as cemeteries, and getting a fuller picture of how much the federal government spent on the boarding school system.

Listen to her full conversation with IPR's Dan Wanschura, above.

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.
Ed Ronco is IPR's news director.