Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A Request Regarding Records of Native Students at Boarding Schools

Those of you who follow Native news know that Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, launched an investigation into boarding schools for Native children. It included finding out how many schools there were, what kind (some were mission schools run by churches), burial sites at the schools, and identification of children went to them. The first report came out in May of 2022. 

It is crucial that these investigations be done. 

It is also crucial that writers and educators be respectful regarding the findings of those investigations. More and more records are being released. Today, news media indicates that databases will be made available. The Washington Post says the digital archives will give "easier access to historians and families still searching for information about their loved ones." 

In the 1990s, I read a book by Ann Rinaldi. It was part of the Dear America series. Set at one of the schools, the ways she used actual names and stories she found in historical archives, was horrific. Utterly disgusting. It was painful to read. 

As more records are becoming available, I am making this request that non-Native writers refrain from mining the archives to create characters and stories. I understand that you may view yourself as an ally but you may inadvertently tread into areas that are far from healed. You may inflict further harm onto Native communities. Leave our stories alone. 

My grandmother (my dad's mother) went to one of the schools in the early 1900s. She told me some things when I was a kid but she didn't talk much about her time there. Did she keep painful things back? Do the records have details in them that she did not share with me? I don't know. My mother's father was Hopi. He also went to one of the schools and met the woman he'd eventually marry. I don't have any stories from them at all. He never talked about it and she died when my mother was a little girl. I do not want an Ann Rinaldi to dig into their records and use their names and information in the records to create a story. 

And so I make my request. Leave our stories alone.

I know--some of you are going to be thinking about First Amendment and freedom of speech and all those things that you think mean you can do anything you want. In fact, you can and many of you have already done such things. You may mock my request as naive. If that's you, not much anyone could say would help you be sensitive. But if you're one who wants to be respectful, I hope my request is helpful. 

I'm not speaking for every Native person. For certain I am asking you to leave stories about my own ancestors alone. 

No comments: