Warren Petoskey in Native Condition. Discussion »
Editor's Note: The following feature was written by Warren Petoskey, who is a tribal citizen of the Little Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Last weekend, he and his wife joined a group that traveled to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to participate in the Carlisle School Symposium held at Dickinson College. Mr. Petoskey offers his reflections on the emotions he felt as he visited the historic Indian boarding school.
CARLISLE, PENNSYLVANIA This past weekend, my wife and I accompanied a group to Carlisle School Symposium at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It may be because the subject matter of the Symposium centered around the infamous Carlisle Indian School which opened in 1879 and closed in 1918.
Warren Petoskey - Little Bay Bands of Odawa Indians
Carlisle Indian School was an experiment initiated through the efforts of Capt. Richard Pratt and the War Department of the United States. The purpose of the school which was located on an old military base was to 'kill the Indian, but save the man.'
The first group of children came primarily from Pine Ridge and one of those students was Luther Standing Bear. The children were taken from their homes by force, put on trains and taken to Carlisle because of a presidential mandate made by President Jackson.
I have mulled over what I might write and pass on regarding what we saw, experienced and understood during our visit. We heard powerful Native and non-native speakers talk about the history of Carlisle and its impact on Native children. The data we saw said that over 10,000 children passed through that school in the nearly forty years it was open. We also saw that the two tribes with the largest number of children who attended Carlisle was the Sioux with over a thousand of their children attending and the Chippewa with 998 children who attended.
My grandfather and his sister, my great aunt attended. My grandfather graduated in 1902. It is our belief that when my grandfather's dad walked on, his two children were taken to Carlisle. Our lives as a family would never be ordinary or normal due to the psychological effects my grandfather displayed. Not only was he dealing with all the conditions brought on our people by the foreign occupation and take-over, in addition, he had to try to process what he was forced to go through at the military style boarding school and the abuse he experienced.
Due to the behaviors of my grandfather, he and my father had no relationship at all. It is not important why. I used to think it was, but when Carlisle came into the picture and after hearing all the stories from the elders who experienced Carlisle I knew why my grandfather was the way he was.
My grandfather walked on when I was three. They tell me he would come to visit when I was born and wanted to hold me and be a grandfather to me, as much as he knew how, but that was limited because he was raised in an institution with no parents or elders around him to teach him or be examples. I have two fleeting memories of him. He died of congestive heart failure due to his alcoholism. After visiting with older cousins who spent time with him they told me that he appeared suspended between two worlds, one his Native origin, and the other the false world that was taught him.
My father's generation went to Mt. Pleasant Indian School which operated nearly forty years and compounded the dysfunctional conditions in our family. Our family continues to display these dysfunctional behaviors and unfortunately, some believe the conditions are normal. I know my family is not unique to families all across Indian country.
So, what is to be done? I believe the First Nations and Metis of Canada have already laid the ground work for the work that needs to be advanced in the United States. Healing, reparation and reconciliation needs to take place. Crimes committed need to be made public. The actual number of children who died in the boarding schools need to be published. Apologies need to be made and religious and political institutions held morally and legally accountable.
Warren Petoskey is a tribal citizen of the Little Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, based in Harbor Springs, Michigan. He authored "Dancing My Dream," an autobiographic book that depicts overcoming challenges he faced in modern society. He and his wife, Barb, reside in Gaylord, Michigan.
posted October 11, 2012 8:59 am edt