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News Stories from the Journey

“I think the difference between this Journey and the other Hoop Journeys over the years is that this one is beyond just drug and alcohol recovery. We are going to touch thousands of people. I think it is rare in a lifetime that you ever get to participate in an idea whose time has come. Now we know that forgiveness is our hope––both short term, medium term and long term. It is the beginning of healing and wellbeing for Indian people. We now have a chance to break the cycle of missed opportunity and hopelessness our people have known. We know for sure that equal to love is forgiveness. Our freedom lies in that. I think it is time. I think the people are willing for it to happen. It’s already happening. The whole system has a chance to heal now.”

Don Coyhis, Mohican Nation
Founder and President of White Bison, Inc.
At the start of the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness, 2009


I am Indigenous

by Nancy Kingbird

I am Indigenous and my skin is brown
All this land is sacred ground
Do you know how it feels to be removed from your land
And to have your child ripped from your hand
To be taken away to a place unknown
And be told to forget the way of life you’ve been shown
To forget your language and convert your pagan soul
Only to be left with a large void of a hole
To forget your parents and your other family members
Leaving a broken heart with only dying embers
Forget where you’ve come from and to whom you belong
Forget your ceremonies and all those sacred songs
Move on in this world and you will be accepted
Only to find out you have only been rejected
Losing your language and your sacred way of life
Only to have acquired a burden of shame and strife
There is no intent of blaming, or trying to prove who’s right
Just acknowledge what has become our plight
We’ve survived our destiny through all of these years
And all have walked our own Trail of Tears
It is the time that we learn how to forgive
And to return to our old ways and begin to live
We’ve all been given our own sacred direction
It’s up to us all to make the connection

Nancy Kingbird, Anishinabe,
is the coordinator of the
Leech Lake Indian School
Forgiveness Journey Event,
June 12, 2009


National Museum of the American Indian
Washington, DC, June 24, 2009

Ceremony, Celebration and Good Words at Journey’s End

We made our final camp in the Atrium of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian to celebrate the conclusion of the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness. With stirring songs by The Eagle Spirit Drum, the Snow Bird singers and others during the day, the coast-to-coast excursion concluded with Ceremony, Celebration and Good Words pointing to the future. More than 2700 participants shared with us during the 40-day, 6800 mile trek from Oregon to DC. Thousands listened, laughed and cried all across Turtle Island as a part of our Native Nation reclaimed its past. In Washington, about 200 participants carried the tradition onward.


Elders Horace Axtell (left) and Ozzie Williamson (at Hoop) during a Ceremony releasing the Medicine Bundle that Horace placed over the Hoop at the start of the Journey

No, we were not able to hand over to the Obama Administration the Petition for Apology for Abuses at U.S. Indian Schools, which was one of the goals of the Journey. We were ready with a combined online and hard copy petition that included 6093 signatures during our day in DC. But “Everything Happens When the Time is Right.” It is just a matter of timing and a bit more communications protocol with both the US government and Native organizations before the many thousands of signatures and beautiful words of the people find their way to President Obama.

Women singers and drumers

Women singers and drumers from the Saginaw-Chippewa tribe of Michigan at the gathering

Although the petition was not handed over during our Washington event, we were honored to have Ms. Larochelle Young, a Policy Advisor for Senator Sam Brownback, share with the gathering a few words about the status of the Native American apology efforts in the Senate led by Sam Brownback. The Brownback resolution was re-introduced on April 30, 2009 under the heading, BROWNBACK RE-INTRODUCES NATIVE AMERICAN APOLOGY RESOLUTION. In the re-introduction news release Senator Brownback says, "The resolution seeks reconciliation and offers an official apology to Native peoples for the poor choices the federal government made in the past. I firmly believe that in order to move forward and have a true reconciliation, the federal government needs to formally apologize." The apology effort is a joint endeavor of Senator Brownback (R., Kansas) and Congressman Boren (D., Oklahoma).

Dr Eduardo Duran

Dr Eduardo Duran

We don’t know how the details of a possible U.S. Government apology will play out as the future unfolds. But we do know that some form of U.S. acknowledgement must take place for the integrity of the country. To read the Brownback news release, click on the link after this story.

The Wellbriety Movement enjoyed another “first” in event reporting in DC. For the first time at an event of this size, a series of ten minute videos is now up on the You Tube website giving coverage of what took place. Citizen’s journalism has come to the Wellbriety Movement. We are grateful to People’s Journalist Lonny Peddycord for videoing the entire day in DC and putting it up on You Tube for all to see and hear. So what happened in DC? Just click on the link after this story and find out.

Elders Horace Axtell and Ozzie Williamson once again blessed us with their presence at this event. The Elders have much to share and offer to the ones who are listening. Horace, with the help from Ozzie, released the spiritual bundle that had been put above the Sacred Hoop at the beginning of the Journey at the Chemawa Indian School.

A group of at least 20 Saginaw Chippewa from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan were able to be at this historical event and brought their talent and spirituality with them from their wonderfully alive home country. Their spirituality was shared with us through song and drum. Joseph Somick, once again, shared his uplifting presence by MC-ing the event.

Don Coyhis (left) and Ed Duran

Don Coyhis (right) and Ed Duran listen to a presenter during the gathering.

So many remarkable happenings took place during the event in DC. Each one of our previous 23 visits offered at least one thing that was unique and would give us something to remember in the days to come. Washington was no exception. We were honored once again to have with us Dr. Eduardo Duran, psychologist and Director of Health and Wellness of the Auburn Rancheria, United Auburn Indian Community, in Loomis, CA.

In less than an hour, Ed Duran painted a word picture of nothing less than a model for understanding and healing from the historic trauma of Native peoples in North America. He spoke about how the oppression came from Europe starting with the three ships of Columbus. He then went on to talk about how the poison carried by those ships was actually spread into the Native population and propagated. Then he outlined some of the healing process that would help indigenous people clear up the soul wound that his work and this Journey is all about. He said that the Native American soul wound is a spiritual wound and requires spiritual healing––purely psychological approaches can only go so far to help. To listen to Dr. Duran’s entire talk, view videos #12-17 on the You Tube site. To read about his book, Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indians and other Native Peoples click on the link at the end of this story.

Elder Horace Axtell and wife

Elder Horace Axtell and wife Andrea at the Gathering in DC

A small miracle took place during the Healing Ceremony at the Sacred Hoop at the close of day. Many visitors to the museum had been hearing our drum and songs from early morning onward. We could see them out on the balconies listening to us. When the healing ceremony began, hundreds came from all over the museum and took part, swelling our core group in the process. Tourists spending a day at the museum got to share in sacred healing culture when they were able to pick up some tobacco and offer their own prayers into the Sacred Hoop. It struck us that this connected with something Ed Duran said during his talk: In order for both Native and non-Native healing to take place, it is best if everyone involved can take part.

In the many sorrows and difficulties that Indian country experiences today, Native people are paying the price for what the perpetrator has done, he said. “The one that should really be paying that is not. Ideally we should have the perpetrator also as part of our healing process. But we can heal ourselves even if the perpetrator does not come forth to apologize or continues to do whatever it is doing. You can heal even if the perpetrator is not part of the healing,” he went on.

Museum visitors and tourists take part in the final Healing Ceremony of the Journey

Museum visitors and tourists take part in the final Healing Ceremony of the Journey at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC

Dr. Duran also said, “In a way, spiritually, by healing yourselves then we are also helping the perpetrator heal. And this becomes a real profound act of love, which is the very ability that this trauma has taken away from a lot of Native people…the ability to love. Most spiritual traditions believe that love itself is Creator in and of itself. When you are talking about a transformative love, you’re talking about God. The ability to enact God then is manifest again.”

The day in Washington was one of forgiveness, love and political action. During our closing ceremony in DC, all colors of the Medicine Wheel united as one people at the Hoop to offer forgiveness of the intergenerational trauma that occurred throughout our individual histories.
Don left us with these words: “To forgive the unforgivable, an apology is not required. The Forgiveness Journey is just the beginning.”

The petition will remain online at the White Bison website www.whitebison.org. Please continue to let your friends and associates know about it so that we can hit the goal of 10,000 names and go even further.

–Forgiveness Journey Team



Dr. Mary Belgarde Speaks about the Boarding School Era

Dr. Mary Belgarde, a professor at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and an Educational and Sociocultural Specialist, was a presenter at the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness event in Albuquerque, NM on May 31, 2009.

seneca nation of Indians

Dr. Mary Belgarde speaks about the Boarding School Era.

On Healing from the Boarding School Era
“My sense is that you have to come to peace with the boarding schools in order to become a whole person again. If you don’t accept those principles of recognizing, acknowledging, getting to that forgiveness stage and allowing yourself to grow from it, you never remain in harmony and balance. You can’t have anger, resentment, and grief going on and achieve harmony at the same time. My sense is that for most Native folks there are always the avenues that we learn from our Elders with regard to spirituality and ceremony that become very meaningful to allow this to happen. For the people who come from a Christian tradition, Christian ways might be a more appropriate step.”

“Healing is being able to feel whole again and to learn to let go of that anger. We can’t change history. It is always there. But you can let go of the anger and resentment and hopelessness and all of those kinds of things in some way. Part of the process of healing is to be able to forgive and stop the anger toward those that colonized or those who took away your right to be who you are. Unless you forgive and move on, you hold on to that and you don’t achieve harmony. You create your own self-hatred and your own sense of powerlessness by holding on to it. You have to find a way to let it go whatever it is. It could be personal counseling, ceremony in a Native tradition, or Christianity––it could be whatever is right for you.”

On Guilt and Apology
“Most non-Natives who took my classes or who take Native studies courses end up feeling guilty. The point is not to make them feel guilty. They didn’t do anything unless they are perpetuating the same behaviors––especially the superiority. If they continue to do that then they have something to apologize for. I don’t think they have to apologize for their forefathers.”

“One of the contexts that I put in my presentation in Albuquerque was that what happened was the result of attitudes and policies of that time. Even the first colonizers had permission from the King and the Queen, the Pope, and the government to go out and do Manifest Destiny, to conquer lands, and look for gold. During the Forgiveness Journey event some non-Natives were asking for forgiveness for their forefathers. I was thinking that we put them in such a difficult bind. In some ways, that desire from non-Natives to make it right for Native people has to come from a different place because they didn’t do anything themselves. I think it is the right thing when governments do a formal apology. I think that’s right on behalf of the country. But if we continue doing things that harm Natives in our current day laws it makes you wonder what good is the apology.”

On Education about the Indian Boarding Schools
“We have got to go beyond the textbooks. Most textbooks will have nothing written from the Native perspective. You have to go outside of the textbooks and you have to use other primary resources like oral stories and sharing from Elders. A lot of my college students didn’t know what took place in the boarding schools either, and never thought to ask their grandparents or their parents about it. Even for them it was a learning experience and they became very angry. Sometimes the parents and grandparents who experienced it didn’t want to talk about it. When they did, they would end up crying so it became a healing process for them as well.”

“The boarding school era should be recognized and approved as part of social studies in language arts curricula in all schools, both Indian and non-Indian. Most histories start in 1492 in text books but they have very little information, a short paragraph, a page at best, on the boarding school era. It’s not in state standards or benchmarks. It’s not in teacher education programs so teachers don’t know how to address it. As a result, we never learned it in school. Even Native students didn’t learn it in school. They knew their parents went to boarding school but they couldn’t probe too deeply about what experiences they had.”

— From an interview by Richard Simonelli on June 4, 2009


Carlisle Indian School
Carlisle, PA, June 21, 2009

Reclaiming The Past at Carlisle

The tears we shed at the Indian cemetery of the former Carlisle Indian School site were tears of hurt and tears of rage, tears of love and tears of diamond water. The tears we shed at Carlisle were prayers and blessings, messages of love to the little spirits telling them they were not forgotten. The tears we shed at Carlisle that day were to thank them for their sacrifice…to thank them for their courage so that the generations culminating in us could live.

Memorial ceremony at the Carlisle Indian cemetery

The hardest part of this day is the knowledge of what happened here and the fact that it all goes by unnoticed. There is no acknowledgment about what went on here and the many lives that were lost at this boarding school that began our many years of hurt.

When we visited the new grave site it amazed and saddened us that so many headstones read Unknown. Unknown was displayed throughout the gravesite, and one row in particular had eight consecutively. We cried at this ceremony for all the children that were left behind and the ones that were never returned to their families. Some of the headstones had last names that we could recognize from the descendents we met on the many stops of this Journey. There has to be a place where these remains belong. There has to be a place where they may rest. They have been moved from the original burial site. It is left to one’s own thought as to what really happened with the remains and where they all might be.

Mother Earth's Daughters an all woman drum

The Day at Carlisle
Three of the Hoop carriers were Teddy Lloyd, Kip Stossweister and Amy Walker. Brandy Jo was brought in by Daijanna Wilson. Our Elder Ozzie Williamson carried the Eagle Staff. We had an all-female drum, Mother Earth’s Daughters. There were also some wonderful children who played throughout the day in their regalia. It was an awesome sight to see those little ones there with such free spirits.

We were surprised to see as many people here as there are, approximately 50, perhaps more. People came from many places today. We had people from Maine, North Carolina, and other areas. There were not many people from the Base who attended. Raven Lloyd, who was our last minute savior and coordinator for this event, met us at the hotel the night before the event and brought us to the Base. We acquired weekend passes. Currently Carlisle is the site of the U.S. Army War College where they teach high-level military subjects and confer Master’s degrees. Raven, who helped make this event happen for us, lives on the Base and has her own background with boarding schools.

Coordinator Raven Lloyd had the connections to allow the event to take place

Raven is the spouse of Teddy Lloyd, who is a military man. She was able to speak the truth today about how she feels about the government sweeping the boarding school history under the rug. Raven went to a boarding school at a very young age and was taught to do farming. She believes that basically she was a slave. She was child labor for that place. She ran away from the school when she was 17 and started abusing alcohol and drugs. When she was sent to the school she had great resentment toward her mother. She felt that her mother had abandoned her. Raven continues to work on those issues today. She says she is not sure if she is ready to forgive, but she does have the understanding that for personal growth, forgiveness is a necessity.

This site where the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was located from 1879 until 1918 is called Carlisle Barracks. Its use by the U.S. government extends all the way from 1777 to its present day location of the U.S. Army War College. The War College has been here since 1951. We were told that the first building the children would see when they arrived at Carlisle Indian School was The Hessian House, which was a stronghold at one time for weapons. It later became a jail for children or military personnel depending upon the era. Today the cells remain and are used for storage. There is a replica of a service man, beaten up, sitting on the bed in one of the cells. There is also a life size replica of Jim Thorpe and a few other manikins throughout this building with some history of incidents other than mention of the boarding school.

Elder Ozzie Williamson at the Carlisle event

Our Elder Ozzie Williamson was able to attend the Carlisle event with us. It is a great honor to listen and be acquainted with him. He shares with us much wisdom and has enlightening stories to share.

During our sharing session, Ozzie said a lot of our young people are suffering. You don’t have to live that way, he said. He told us to keep your head on straight and do what is right. He tells us about families that are non- drinking but have no love, either. Ozzie shares his personal story about lack of love growing up. The first time his mom ever hugged him was when he came home from Korea. She came running outside, grabbed him and hugged him. She was crying. He didn’t know what to do so he hugged her and cried with her. He was 23 years old and he has never forgotten it. He learned it is important to hug his children. His kids are all grown. He doesn’t want them to feel what he felt––unloved. Ozzie says today is Father’s Day and his messages will be full on his cell phone when he can get to them. Because, when he got sober he became a dad. Ozzie tells all the dads to love their kids as much as they possibly can. It’s great to see Indian men tell their children they love them in public.

Amy Walker shared with us that her mother is full Cherokee. She remembers her telling the children she would run away from boarding school. Her mother never told them why she ran away so often. She said when she began her own healing she couldn’t hug her mother without her mother getting stiff as a board. She learned to tell her own kids she loved them. Amy remembers her mother saying that Andrew Jackson is one man that should have been born dead. I learned to hate that man, she said.

The Gathering at the Carlisle Event

Amy’s father is a Lakota from Rosebud. She was 10 when he passed away. Amy believes he went to Carlisle. She has searched for his name on the records but has not found anything. When he started school his name was Lone Wolf, but it changed to the boarding school name of Ernest Grant. Ms. Walker is now 37 years sober. She says it took 10 years of sobriety to realize that she likes herself. She prays every day and asks the Creator for the ability to love herself. She still has to tell herself that she is important and that she is okay. Today she is carrying a picture of her mom with her. Amy believes she and her mother’s life are parallel. Amy’s mother raised eight children by herself. The cycle needs to be broken she says. Amy’s daughter and grandchild are learning the Cherokee language.

Tears of Diamond Water

A Good Day Filled with Diamond Tears
It is a tragic thing to recognize the horrific acts that are inflicted on human beings by human beings. It is even more ironic to be sitting in Washington DC, writing this, and acknowledging that this is the place where those orders creating the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and the others, originated. It is necessary to process everything that we have witnessed and been a part of on this Journey. It is important to forgive it so that healing can take place in this nation out of necessity…so that our children may live healthier, happier, more balanced lives than we or our ancestors did. Change is to bring back the spirituality, culture, love and language. Chi Migweetch.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Thomas Indian School
Gowanda, NY, June 19, 2009

A Day on the Seneca Nation

seneca nation of Indians

A welcome from the Seneca Nation at Irving, NY

The Seneca Nation in New York State knows itself as Keepers of the Western Door. Senecas are traditionally the westernmost tribe of the Six Nations Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois peoples. The Six Nations include, the Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Cayuga and Oneida Nations. The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness came to Irving, New York, just a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Erie, for a day at the site of the former Thomas Indian School on Seneca territory.

The Thomas Indian School began its time as The Thomas Asylum for Orphan and Destitute Indian Children in 1855. Its time as a school is usually dated from 1905. By the time its doors closed in 1957, it offered classes all the way to grade nine. But Thomas Indian School was much more than a school building or even a campus. It was a completely self-sustaining community including barns, dormitories, a hospital, a school, out buildings, orchards and a dairy farm. At present, only one building remains of the original complex––the building that was once the hospital. That building has been refurbished and remodeled. It houses some of today’s tribal offices. The Thomas Indian School was run by the State of New York throughout its time. It was not a federal school or a mission-based school as were most of the nearly 500 boarding schools in the U.S.

We had overcast to get the morning started but by late afternoon the sun was out and greeting us. We started out across the grounds at the Seneca Nation Library and gathered to look at old photos of students who attended Thomas Indian School. Lehman “Dar” Dowdy offered an opening prayer at the beginning of the Hoop walk through the complex. He also blessed us with an opening prayer at the Wellness Center where the day’s event would take place. Carrying the Hoop was Llona LeRoy, Tribal Council; Linda Doxtator, Tribal Council; Robert Thompson, Commander; and Jason Marr, Veteran. Tribal Councilman Travis Jimerson brought in the Eagle Staff. The official count of participants at the event was almost 200, which surprised the coordinators.

seneca nation of Indians

Barry E. Snyder, Sr., President of the Seneca Nation of Indians, opens the gathering

The day began with a welcoming talk by Barry E. Snyder, Sr., President of the Seneca Nation. We were especially delighted to receive a Proclamation from the tribe declaring June 19, 2009 to be Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Day on Seneca Nation Territories. We are glad to see such support for the Journey by tribal government. Then there were presentations by Don Coyhis and Marlin Farley traveling with the Journey, as well as the screening of a film about the effects of the boarding school times on Indian people. It was time then for the community to pick up the open mic and share with their neighbors from their hearts.

Reggie Krause is the youngest of nine kids. They all went to Thomas Indian School. He wondered why his parents kept having kids and kept sending them to the boarding school. He knows now that it had a lot to do with drinking. He remarked that the school provided babysitters for the drinkers. “I didn’t understand what this whole process was in these Indian Schools. I have learned since,” he reflected.

Reggie said he hated Christianity because he was forced to go to church at this school. What they were doing to Indian kids changed his mind about Christianity. He remembers that bad things happened at these schools. There was sexual abuse by farm hands, never reported. He remembers there was no privacy in the dorms. Reggie witnessed sexual activity between kids when the lights were off. A lot of them were from the some same family he says. A lot of this sexual stuff we suffer from today goes way back. He says it can be traced back to the grandparents in some cases. He then says that the domestic violence is as high as the alcohol rate in many families. Reggie also said there were some good parts to boarding school. He had food and hot running water while he was at the schools.

seneca nation of Indians

Walking the Sacred Hoop through the complex

After boarding school Reggie joined the military and then got married. He knew nothing of marriage or about parenting. He was not taught intimacy or parenting. The hardest part about being married, he remembers, was to learn what family is supposed to be like. It was strange to him because he didn’t have anything to go on. He didn’t have any family life. He says you can’t heal without forgiveness. “Even though they’ve done all these things,” he says, “I have to forgive them or I will stay angry. And then I can’t heal.”

Marilyn Anderson is the Interim Health services Administrator of the Cattaraugus Community Health and Wellness Center where our gathering was held. She was also a participant at the gathering and helped out with some of the day. How was the day received by the community? “There were a lot of similarities in terms of stories that were told, she said. “The feedback I got from people was that it was good, it helped to open their eyes to some things. For our non-Native staff it helped them to understand, as they are counseling our people, some of the things in our history, in our background.”

seneca nation of Indians

Reggie Krause shares his experiences at the open mic

She also pointed out that some people reported good memories of the skills and work ethic they took away from their time at Thomas Indian School. “One woman came to me and said, I hate hearing all this negative stuff about boarding schools. Why do people always talk like that? She said I’m glad I went there. I learned a trade, I got a job that supported me my whole life. I don’t know why people have to make it such a terrible thing.”

Sunday John works in prevention aftercare for substance abuse at the Seneca Wellness Center. She also organized and coordinated the event. We asked her to help us understand the mix of bitter-sweet remembrances some people shared at the open mic. Sunday also works with reservation Elders’ groups. Here is what she said.

“Talking with Elder groups in my work, some of them say there were a lot of bad things that went on but they don’t talk about it any more. They have put it away. But on the other hand, they did learn how to be good housemates so they could get jobs afterward. The guys said they learned a trade but it was hard to get a job because they were still seen as the drunken Indians and no one wanted to hire them. So on one hand, they did learn to survive, and on the other hand there were so many tragedies that they just buried so they could go on. They admitted that they were fed, had a bed to sleep in, and in that sense, it could be considered good.”

seneca nation of Indians

There were nearly 200 people in attendance at the Seneca Nation gathering

Thomas Indian School is also called “Salum” because that’s how many of the alumni remember the word “Asylum.” Ron Kraft is the President of the Thomas Indian School Reunion Committee, sometimes called the Salum school reunion group. There are about 50 members who still show up each year. Ron is 72 yrs old and retired from the military. He says he didn’t have bad feelings about the school but a lot of kids did. “I was brought up not to be an Indian. I never got anything for being an Indian,” he reflects. But things have changed. Now he is proud to be an Indian, whether he is wanted or not. “Now I feel fortunate. A lot of good things have since happened.” He now knows his sisters and brothers, which wasn’t possible in his boarding school times.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

The 22nd event on the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness took place on the Seneca Nation in Gowanda, NY on June 19, 2009. The Seneca Nation issued a Proclamation marking the day. The Proclamation states, "Whereas White Bison, Inc. and the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Movement recognize the devastating affect unresolved grief from historical events has had on the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health of our people... THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that I, Barry E. Snyder. Sr., President of the Seneca Nation of Indians, do hereby proclaim June 19, 2009 as Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Day On Seneca Nation Territories."

Thomas Indian School


Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial School
Mt. Pleasant, MI, June 17, 2009

The Visit to Mt. Pleasant, Michigan Opens New Ground

“Surely this is not only a historic moment for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, but for Native Americans across the United States. Today is a day we walk a journey for forgiveness.” With these words, Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Chief Fred Cantu Jr. began the visit of the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness during the Sunrise Ceremony in Mt. Pleasant Michigan. It would be a day to remember.

The Gathering walks from downtown Mt. Pleasant to the boarding school site.

The day began early at the Tribal Operations Building gymnasium on the Isabella Reservation, home to the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. It then moved to the Isabella County Building in downtown Mt. Pleasant, carried by a stream of some 400 walkers through the streets of the city. After the festivities in Mt. Pleasant were complete, the walkers continued on to the site of the former Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial School a few more miles away. By day’s end, nearly 600 participants would experience the healing intention of the Forgiveness Journey.

Walking the Sacred Hoop into the site

The visit in Mt. Pleasant Michigan marked a first for participation of three tribal governments, plus city, county and state representation. The state of Michigan is home to the Odawa, Ojibwe, Pottawatomie tribes. Each sent a representative to the event that day. Non-Native government representation included Mt. Pleasant Mayor James Holton, Isabella County Commissioner David Ling, Union Township's Supervisor John Barker, James Moreno of the Mount Pleasant Area Diversity Group, and Sean Novak of the Isabella County Human Rights Committee. This pioneers a model for Native and Non-Native communities working together around a healing theme.

Hunter Genia of the Tribe's Behavioral Health program MC’d the event at the county building. He expressed the deeper meaning of what was taking place.

Dorm building of the old boarding school

“This may be the first time that we’ve had our Tribal Eagle Staff and Tribal dignitaries, along with our City Council and City Commissioners, ever in the same room together in harmony,” he said. “When is the last time that tribal leaders, state leaders, city government leaders, our tribal police, our city police and our state police, have ever worked together for a cause like this? It has never happened in this town. It is pretty sad that we don’t have ABC, CBS, NBC here today because this was not important enough to them. But that doesn’t matter because all of us are here today together –– the red the white, the black, and the yellow. We’re all part of the human race, and if we’re going to progress together as a society we have to work together.”

Lunch time at the event

Isabella County Commissioner David Ling represented the non-Native view. “I’m proud to be an American, but that doesn’t mean that I do not recognize that this country has tolerated and pursued policies and actions which have been hurtful and painful and should never ever have occurred,” he began. “We should be embarrassed, and we as a nation must apologize and seek forgiveness. Clearly the Indian boarding schools are an embodiment of those kinds of misguided policies. Today you have offered the rest of us a chance to make a small step on our journey to move a little closer to the reconciliation and tolerance and acceptance that so many of us seek for this broader community. I thank the organizers of this event and the leadership of White Bison for this extraordinary opportunity for us to listen and to learn.”

The Mt. Pleasant Indian Boarding School existed from 1893 until 1933 on the northern edge of Mt. Pleasant. After the school’s closure the campus was turned into an insane asylum. One of the student ditties to survive those times captures what it was like:

Six o'clock in the morning,
Our breakfast comes around.
A bowl of mush and molasses,
Was enough to knock you down.
Our coffee's like tobacco juice,
Our bread is hard and stale,
and that's the way they treat you
At Mt. Pleasant Indian Jail.

There were many boarding school survivors and descendents present at the Forgiveness Journey event that day. When the event moved to the boarding school site, it was time to touch into some of the heartfelt grief work that is one of the deep roots of the Journey. For it will be through this kind of grief sharing that the locked up sorrow and sadness will come into the light of day and find release.

Why We Journey

We were fortunate to have First Nations people present from Canada. An Elder from Ontario talked about her life, saying that she has had a hard life. She recalls first having tuberculosis and being hospitalized for a long time. From the hospital she was sent to a residential school. She says has been in violent situations for a long time. Her husband lost his leg and then a toe she tell us. She says she doesn’t feel like doing anything anymore. In her community she is not respected as an Elder. She says she has to travel long distances, like today, to be accepted. When she returns home she feels sad all over again. She feels the anger in her home as soon as she gets in the door. Sometimes she would like to leave her husband. She said in her community a lot of drinking goes on. She tries to tell her grandchildren not to drink. She said she knows that she is not the only one––all families on her reserve have alcohol problems.

During the open mic a man talks about being beaten by his stepfather from the age of 3 to 13. It was a terrible thing to do to a child he says. “I was 12 when I started drinking,” he shares. “I thought that is what everyone did.” He tells the gathering that he was 13 when he was sent to Albuquerque Indian School and learned how to lie, cheat and steal to survive. “I had to steal food if I wanted to eat. The ministers wanted to make me white,” he says. The Creator should not be beaten into you, he reflected. After Albuquerque he joined the Marines and went to Vietnam. He knew if the Creator ever allowed him to have children he would not put his hands on them in a hurtful way because he knows what it is like. He now has 18 years of sobriety. He found the Creator in his own way. He now dances and sings the songs.

Yet another open mic participant is a second generation survivor. She remembers going to the school that first day and the big building was very intimidating. She recalls not being sure what to do there. The nuns thought she was real cute and kept her. After about two weeks of being there she told them that she had been there long enough and that she wanted to go home. They told her that she was going to be there for a long, long time. Eight years went by. She learned not to cry there. She learned how to stuff her feelings. She learned how to be strong and pull herself up by the bootstraps and move on. Her closing thoughts for us were, I’m still here, you didn’t beat me down, I am proud, I am a good person, I choose not to dwell on this. I move on and set examples. Then she gives us what amounts to a teaching: Talking about all this is healing, she says.

The day ended with both a Healing Ceremony at the Sacred Hoop, and a Sacred Jingle Dress Healing Dance carried out by tribal women. We were honored to share the Saginaw Chippewa traditions.

The 21st visit of the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness took place at the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan on Wednesday, June 17, 2009. Nearly 600 participants gathered to hear the many presentations on healing from the historic trauma of the Indian boarding school era. Tribal Chief Fred Cantu, Jr. opened the day with remarks during a sunrise ceremony. Mt. Pleasant is the site of the former Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial School, a boarding school which was in existence from 1893 to 1933.

Click here to see video of the event... >

From the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun...
More than 400 people walked five miles in the rain on Wednesday from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe’s offices to the grounds of the former Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School on Wednesday. Click here for the entire Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun article... >

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Click here or on the Proclamation graphic below to view the Proclamation in pdf format.

Native American Culture Proclamation


Oneida Indian Boarding School
Oneida, WI, June 15, 2009

Horses Help with Intergenerational Healing at Oneida

The Oneida reservation is located just west of Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Oneidas are part of the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy located in New York State where there is also a branch of the tribe. The day was nice and sunny, a perfect day for an outdoor event with the temperature in the upper 70s and a slight breeze to keep everyone from becoming too hot. It was almost summer in Wisconsin. The large tent that was set up for the event had ample room for the ceremonies to be held that day. Three different drum groups were present and diligently honored us by playing until we were loaded up and leaving the grounds at the end of the day.


The opening walk for the Oneida visit of the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness

The Oneida Indian Boarding School was in existence from 1893 until about 1920 on the same spot where the Forgiveness Journey took place. Now these are the grounds of the Norbert Hill Center, an important community center for Oneidas. The ceremonies started out with a prayer from Bob Brown and a handshake ceremony welcoming us to the event. The Drum on opening was Wohitika (The One Who Is Strong). The Hoop was carried in by Mike King, David Metoxen, Maxine Thomas, and Nina Kaupisch. Brandy Jo was honored by Maya Chinana, and the Eagle Staff by Wendell Kenote. There was also an introduction and sharing by Coordinator Emma White. Don then did his presentation and lunch was served. After lunch the invited panel spoke and community members shared.

Women singers and drumers

The tent site at Oneida

The Oneida gathering in Wisconsin had a number of special happenings. Oneida Behavioral Health had a few counselors on hand in case people needed to process their feelings as the day went on. As it turned out, their services were not required except to support speakers who had the courage and the heart to talk about their own boarding school memories.

The presence of three horses was another first at Oneida for our Journey visits. These equine participants were with us through the courtesy of the Pegasus Leadership Consultants, LLC organization of Wisconsin. In Greek mythology, Pegasus is a horse with wings. The Pegasus organization utilizes horses as important teachers integral with their leadership training approach.

Dr Eduardo Duran

Ginger the horse and trainer during the event

Some of the participants petted the horses and some rode bareback. After one ride, the trainer remarked that the horses are really good at being able to take the energy from people and then releasing it into the world. They can take the pain that people are feeling or experiencing and release it on their own.

She said that one woman was in a lot of emotional pain and wanted to ride hoping the horse could help her release some of the pain. As she was riding the emotional pain was so intense that the horse began huffing, almost like a woman giving birth, in order to release that energy. The horses' handler had never seen that before and was moved to say "don't be afraid of the pain." Almost immediately both the rider and the horse began to relax and move more slowly with less stress. It’s important to know that horses live in the here and now and do not feel a human's pain as pain but as energy that they are able to let flow through them and disperse with no harm to them, she said.

One of the people who got up and spoke at the microphone said it was nice for him to be able to hear his four-legged relatives calling and neighing back and forth to each other. They helped to give him some strength to speak he said. Click on the link after this story to learn more about the Pegasus approach to therapeutic riding and equine-assisted psychotherapy.

During the panel discussion, Ken Fish of the nearby Menominee nation shared his own experience with boarding schools. Ken’s father and mother both went to boarding schools. His father went to government boarding school and his mother went to a Christian boarding school. He said we are losing our young people. Our young people need to know their history and their culture or the vision of our ancestors will vanish.

Don Coyhis (left) and Ed Duran

Ken Fish

Ken said he did some research into the boarding schools and trauma issues. He states that he was shocked. All the females and males wore uniforms. All the males were at attention with wooden guns. As time went on, so did the programming. Mr. Fish says when we as a people brag about being loyal to this country, we are. We are the first to stand up and defend this country. But he also talks about things that are maybe unspeakable. For example, he says in the Pledge of Allegiance we say One Nation Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All. But we, as indigenous people, know it isn’t true, he said. There is a small percentage of us that believe it, because past generations were programmed into thinking it.

A community sharing session followed the panel sharing. Maxine Thomas is from the Bear Clan. She didn’t know she was Oneida and she didn’t know the language. She knew when she went to town people would make fun of her, but she did not know that it was because she was an Indian. Maxine was raised by her grandparents. She tells us Grandpa Bill went to Carlisle. He was really good at sports and competed a lot at Carlisle. She knows people were punished and put into sweat boxes. Her grandmother’s sister caught on fire and died at Carlisle. Her grandmother could never hug them. Her grandmother’s body would become stiff or she would pull away if Maxine tried to hug her. Maxine says that it was hard for her to hug her own children and she feels bad about that today.

Elder Horace Axtell and wife

Maxine Thomas and two counselors in support

Maxine’s parents grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania in a white community. Maxine had always tried to figure out who she was. She was told not to marry into Oneida because they drink and they will beat you up. Maxine also has had confusion with religion. She was raised Methodist and Episcopalian. Later she became agnostic and didn’t believe in either. She says in the Oneida way, when someone passes, there is a 10-day feast. Mrs. Thomas was encouraged to learn her culture and traditions by her husband, who is a white man. Maxine learned her culture through education and began to understand why Oneidas have a 10-day feast. She learned about the Long House and the medicines. She states that she found out they were not witches for doing their medicine in the woods. She learned that the Long House is beautiful.

Elder Horace Axtell and wife

Coordinator Emma White shares her experiences

Coordinator Justine Souto later told us that the Oneida Nation has offered workshops and presentations about the boarding schools and intergenerational healing since about 2005. People are starting to become familiar with the terms “intergenerational healing” and “historical trauma,” she said, even though it is still kind of a foreign concept to most. “There are still too many people in our community who are not prepared to begin that healing process,” she revealed, “or they are still in the very early stages where they are not ready to hear a challenging message.”

Coordinator Suoto said the gathering in Oneida was a wonderful event. She said a few people said the Journey was a gift, the Hoop coming was a real gift to them. Now they are able to carry that gift forward and be responsible for the knowledge that they gained. She said the turnout of about 50 people was the only disappointment despite the good advanced publicity. She felt that many people are still in denial about how historical trauma issues affect themselves and their families. We are still at the beginning of that educational process. She was grateful to White Bison for breaking the ground to intergenerational healing.

“Thank you to White Bison for taking on this responsibility––and it is a responsibility,” she remarked. “It is something that can be a real emotional burden, but when you know the truth, and you can’t deny it, you have to act on it. White Bison has clearly demonstrated their willingness to act time and time again. I think the kind of work all of you do is an amazing thing.”

–Forgiveness Journey Team

Click here to learn more about Pegasus Leadership Consultants, LLC... >


Lac du Flambeau Boarding School
Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, June 14, 2009

View an interview with Don Coyhis at the Lac du Flambeau gathering done by Indian Country TV on June 14, 2009. Click here to view the video... >

View an interview with Kelly Jackson, Historic Preservation Officer for the Lac du Flambeau Tribe, at the Lac du Flambeau gathering done by Indian Country TV on June 14, 2009. Click here to view the video... >

A Drum and a Song at Lac du Flambeau

Four young boys sit at a drum and sing traditional songs. They are Ojibwe (Chippewa) boys, a couple with long hair and braids, boys who surf the Internet and probably use Google to help them with their homework. Their drum group is called Waswagoning (Wa –swa – goning), which means lake or place of the torches. It was awesome to see them singing and drumming the songs passed down from the ancestors.

seneca nation of Indians

The Waswagoning Drum at Lac du Flambeau

These four young boys sit at their drum directly in front of a fence encircling a 1906 boarding school building. This building was one of the boy’s dormitories of the Lac du Flambeau boarding school that opened in 1895 and closed in 1932. This is a building that housed Chippewa boys with the purpose of robbing them of their traditions 103 years ago.

But now, in 2009, these are boys who are re-learning their traditions. They are boys whose songs provide the sacred context for our gathering, whose purpose is to heal from the boarding school wounds that their 100-plus year old brothers were just about to receive in 1906. What took place through this Drum at Lac du Flambeau in north-central Wisconsin was one of the numerous and incredible small miracles that we experienced on the Journey.

seneca nation of Indians

The 1906 Boy's Dormitory which is being restored as part of the Historic Preservation project

Kelly Jackson coordinated the Lac du Flambeau visit for White Bison. Kelly is the Historic Preservation officer for the Lac du Flambeau tribe. It is her job to restore the 1906 boys dormitory building in front of which the boys are sitting today. “For Lac du Flambeau, the Wellbriety Journey is perfect timing,” she says. “We’ve been working on a boarding school restoration project for several years and the contractors are just getting started with the actual bricks and mortar. The reconstruction begins tomorrow,” she said in an interview after the event. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” she goes on. “The restoration project is an incredible effort to interpret the boarding school with the same concept as the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness brings us: understanding and honoring those people who have gone through this tragic era.”

seneca nation of Indians

Kelly Jackson, Historic Preservation Officer for Lac du Flambeau

We are grateful to have been escorted on a mini tour of the old boarding school grounds by Geraldine Poupart Brown who attended the school and has lived within a three-block radius of the school her whole life. Geraldine shared with us a little of her history and background with Lac Du Flambeau. She told us of the area where many buildings used to stand, pointing out the direction of the pig farm where students used to labor. She showed us where the doctor’s office, kitchen, bathrooms, and other offices were located when she attended the school. Mrs. Brown said that after attending she also worked on the site cleaning and doing laundry for $6.00 a month. She attended the boarding school for one year but did not like it at all.

Geraldine’s father attended the school as well and she had stories to tell us of those times. She said that the man in charge of the boarding school would carry a whip with him at all times. Her father used to run away but was dragged back and whipped. She asked if we could imagine getting sick and the doctor having to pass medicine through the fence. She told us that is what used to happen in her father’s time. We encouraged Geraldine to share her history with the group. She said it was just too painful to talk about it. But she has shared her story with her children so they are aware of the things that happened to the Indian people.

seneca nation of Indians

Opening Ceremony. Geraldine Poupart Brown carries the Eagle Staff and Marlin Farley is wearing the dark shirt

Kelly Jackson’s song was another high point of the day. Accompanying herself on guitar, Kelly sang a beautiful song, which in English would be entitled, I Don’t Want to Go. It is a song about a young man taken from his grandmother at a very young age and carried to the boarding school. Kelly wrote it as a result of finding a letter from a tribal member written in the late 1800’s asking what right they had to take children from their families. It voices the horrific reality of stealing young children and taking them away. It expresses what impact that has on grandmothers, mothers and children. It is a gentle song that captures the change in the boy’s life in one generation. I Don’t Want to Go, and more of Kelly’s songs will be released soon. Look for them.

About 20 people showed up for the event. The boys at the drum are Eric Alan as well as Wilbur, Trey and Desmond Mitchell. Three Mitchells. The Opening Prayer was done by Leon Valliere and the Hoop was carried in by Craig Beardsley, Lisa Potts, Carl Edwards and Georgene Brown. The Staff was brought in by Geraldine Poupart Brown.

The tribe’s President Carl Edwards presented Don with a Resolution from the Lac du Flambeau tribal government during the opening festivities. White Bison is grateful to receive this and other Resolutions and Proclamations on behalf of the Wellbriety Movement. The Lac du Flambeau Resolution is rich in history and worth reading. You can find it after this story.

seneca nation of Indians

Carrying in the Sacred Hoop at Lac du Flambeau

Our day in northern Wisconsin was well received. There was a large powwow taking place about an hour away from our site and we were blessed to have the veterans, drum and participants that showed up to hear about the 2009 Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness. We were able to visit and talk with one another informally, which made it a day of relaxation and peacefulness for all. We were located right next to a lake with a fish hatchery down the way. Three bald eagles soared overhead most of the afternoon. It was very spiritual with those young boys drumming and singing.

We especially send prayers and good wishes to the Lac du Flambeau tribe for their cutting-edge efforts on preserving and interpreting their boarding school history for the generations to come.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

Click here or on the Lac Du Flambeau Proclamation below to view a pdf version of the Proclamation.

lac cu flambeau proclamation


Leech Lake Indian School
Cass Lake, MN, June 12, 2009

Opening Up at the Leech Lake Gathering

Opening Ceremony at Leech Lake

What effect did the Leech Lake gathering have on the community? Co-coordinator Nancy Kingbird thought about it. “Our gathering went well. It opened up something real reluctant in the community,” she said. “It is time for this to be out in the open in the community, to be discussed. The people are ready for it. Our people have suffered so much they are ready to be real and to talk about these things, to find a safe place and share these things.”

The Leech Lake Indian Reservation in north central Minnesota is the second largest in the state. Its beautiful land encompasses 972 square miles of forests and lakes even though tribal members own only a small percentage of this land. It is not unusual for tribes to own very little of their own reservations. This is an outcome of the 1887 Dawes Act (Allotment Act) still alive to this day, and to some extent the Nelson Act of 1889 in Minnesota. The Indian Mission School at Cass Lake was opened in November of 1867 with a class of 50 students. According to Ms. Kingbird, many of the ancestors of the Leech Lake Nation were also shipped to other Minnesota and out-of-state boarding schools.

Robbie talks about his breakthrough with the Red Road to Wellbriety book

Robbie shared his own recovery and healing story with us during the day. Holding up a copy of the White Bison book The Red Road to Wellbriety, he revealed that he was in treatment for meth and coke in 2003 when he met up with this book. Robbie didn’t know about his culture and traditions. His non-Native counselor gave him the Red Road to Wellbriety book to read. It turned out that she knew more about his culture and tradition than he did, something that humbled him very much. He told us he started to read the book and it was fascinating. He was able to relate because it was written in terms he could understand and use. The Red Road to Wellbriety saved his life he said. He never thought he would even have a day of sobriety but here he is by the Creator’s will.

About 75 people took part in the Forgiveness Journey gathering at Leech Lake. Meeka, a young lady who also takes part in the White Bison Daughters of Tradition program carried in Brandy Jo. The Sacred Hoop was brought in by Theresa Jordan, Ray Littlewolf, Brady Fairbanks and Levonne Thompson. Deverey Fairbanks, co-coordinator along with Nancy Kingbird, MC’d the event. And the Wednesday Night Singers drummed us through the day. The Wednesday Night singers are part of a group of 40-50 young people from all over the reservation facilitated by Darryl Northbird. Today’s contingent included Darryl Northbird, Alan Hardy, Pete Phonseya and Lynal Fairbanks and others.

Deonne Pansch gives a talk during the morning

The day opened with Don Coyhis’ popular boarding school presentation followed by another keynote by Deonne Pansch, a therapist and Program manager for the Leech Lake Child Welfare Program. Ms. Pansch talked about American Indian U.S. policy history, the historic background of how the boarding schools came about. Then she went further to talk from her own field of expertise about secondary trauma, those many spin-off afflictions that people have suffered from but have their roots in boarding school causes and behavior. She talked about physical brain injury trauma arising from fetal alcohol effects that gets passed on from generation to generation.

“As a result of boarding schools there is a break in parenting tradition and support,” she says. “A lot of boarding school survivors didn’t have the traditional upbringing and the parenting or family structure or attachment structure that they needed. As a result, many developed secondary disabilities such as mental health issues and substance abuse issues.” These co-occurring disorders are found throughout Indian communities but their roots are in the historic trauma of the past.

Father Harold Eagle Bull

What did Ms. Pansch think of the day? “It was powerful, powerful,” she exclaims.” “I had staff within my program who said it was cleansing and powerful. They believed there was an opening in the sky. Someone said to me that there had been clouds covering the open sky but now there had been an opening.”

We were also fortunate to have Father Harold Eagle Bull with us for the day. Father Eagle Bull is a Native American Episcopal priest who works in human services, mental health and social work. He is also a member of the White Bison Board of Directors. Father Harold connected with White Bison while he was with the Episcopal Mission on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He was at Wind River for three-and-a-half years and has been at Leech Lake for seven years.

Father Eagle Bull had a life-changing breakthrough from a lecture by his auntie when he was young. After a binge, he was sent down to his Auntie’s house on the Pine Ridge Reservation. “Sit here, I want to talk to you,” she told him. He respected the Elders. She told him, “If you continue this you will wind up in prison. Do you want that to happen to you?” Through God’s grace, the words got through to him. He went on to school. After that he attend seminary in New Brighton, MN and was ordained. He reflects on the messages of forgiveness and knowing the history carried by the Journey. “I think talking about our boarding school experiences is long overdue. I think the people are ready to go through the grief,” he says.

The Wednesday Drum

Robbie remembers a little bit of how that harm was actually passed down. After speaking about his own substance abuse recovery he said, “My mother and her sister were sitting at the table speaking fluent Ojibwe one day. When the kids came in, then they spoke English.” He never understood it because to him the language is the most beautiful thing he has ever heard. He asked about it, but never received a straight answer. They would tell him to go play, they didn’t want to talk about it. He now knows why. Personally, he says, the boarding school did more damage than any other tactic. It took all the nurturing years away, the years where mothers would be prepared for child rearing.

Co-coordinator Nancy Kingbird (left)

Another participant relates that she doesn’t remember feeling much kindness from others during her entire growing up. She was never hugged or kissed and finally had to come to understand the lake was her mother in order to survive. She remembers that her only desire was that this didn’t happen to anyone else. She said, “If I can be kind to one other child, I really have made it back.”

The day ended with the Healing Ceremony where people come up individually to the Sacred Hoop to offer tobacco, to pray and to be with their Creator in silence even as the Drum sings its healing songs. Nancy Kingbird reflects on the meaning of the day for her.

“The search in my life is why have we become so self-destructive?” she asks. “It is amazing where we are at with White Bison, with the Wellbriety Movement, and what will happen in Washington at the end of this Journey in a few days. I think of all of that pain and suffering, the no-talking and no-sharing and no-trust and all those core values of our society that were violated. For me it is very, very awakening. It is re-affirming for me to know that the conclusions that I have reached for myself are the same as those White Bison is talking about,” she says quietly.

For more information about the Red Road to Wellbriety Book go to coyhispublishing.com.

The Healing Ceremony during the closing

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Red Lake Indian School
Red Lake, MN, June 11, 2009

The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Visits Warm Springs

Red Lake Band Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain welcomes the gathering

Larry Stillday went to the old Red Lake Boarding School site and performed a pipe ceremony for the little spirits that were left behind. He told us that the day was calm, but when he did the pipe ceremony there was a slight breeze. He says the breeze was the spirit world acknowledging what we are doing at the Journey visit today.

Larry is a long time friend of White Bison and the Wellbriety Movement’s way of cultural healing. He’s one of the people behind the yearly Wellbriety Fests that take place at Red Lake. He gave the opening prayer at the Journey visit in Red Lake and later told us that while we are doing this ceremony here today the ancestors are sitting with us, sitting just as we are. He said we are the voices of those generations who all experienced trauma, lost life, ran away and died, and for the ones that didn’t understand.

Larry Stillday speaks after giving the Opening Prayer

The Journey crew arrived about 8:30 a.m. and gathered around for some visiting before the doors were opened. There were many volunteers to help set up and move things around. Our space was quite large inside the Red Lake Humanities Building and the sound system was good. The Red Lake Nation was glad to have us there and welcomed us with enthusiasm. Floyd “Buck” Jourdain, Chairman, Red Lake Band, welcomed us and expressed his thoughts. He thanked us for bringing the Hoop to the community again. There was a good turnout. By the end of the day about 125 people had signed in.

The Red Lake Anishnabe (Ojibwe) Reservation in northern Minnesota had its share of boarding schools in the historic times. The three main institutions were the government operated Ponemah Boarding school and the Red Lake Boarding School, as well as the church-run St. Mary's Mission Boarding school. Red Lake children also went to the off-reservation schools such as Haskell Institute, Pipestone school, Hampton Institute, Vermilion school, Morris school, Tomah school, Carlisle school, Chilocco school, Chamberlain school, Riggs Institute, Toledo school and Pierre school. The sharing at Red Lake during our visit encompassed memories of the more recent times from the 1940’s onward. The memories weren’t real good.

Frances Miller spoke with great heart about her boarding school experiences

One boarding school survivor told us there were ugly parts that he can never forget. He said that they were deloused and their hair was cut off whether or not they had lice. He also remembered something that we heard at some of the other gatherings––that many kept the culture alive by hiding out. He said from 1958 through 1978 many practiced spirituality in the woods. They had to take their ceremonies out into the woods and hide to do them. The year 1978 was the year that the American Indian Religious Freedom Act became law.

Frances Miller remembers the time in boarding school when she had enough. She went and told the Father that she and her sister wanted to go home because she didn’t like the way they’d been treated. The Priest spoke to her in Ojibwe and asked them to stay. He told her if they would stay he would make sure these things wouldn’t happen. Frances went on to say, “We have had nothing but broken promises our whole life.” Sure enough, after Mass in the morning, she ran away because she didn’t want to get baptized. “I defended my traditions and spirituality,” she remembers. But when they caught her they had the whip, locked her in her room and tied her to the bed. She was told she was going to stay until school is over. “They pretended to be good people and told our parents that we would be alright. But we weren’t alright” she said.

Father Pat of St. Mary's Mission Church spent the day with us

Frances said this was a hard subject for her. It is still hard to talk about and remember. She was seven years old when she entered boarding school. It wasn’t bad enough that they cut and shaved off our hair she remembered. If she spoke her language she would have to stand in corner and hold her tongue. She grew up in the boarding school with the priest and nuns. She recalls being slapped and beaten. She still has scars on her legs from the whips. Frances says that she thought it was the way life was lived. But Indian people didn’t live that way.

How did she begin to heal? She started following tradition…walking the good road. It took a long time. She fell into alcoholism to forget, but it didn’t make the pain go away and it didn’t make the ugliness go away. It didn’t make the priest or the nuns any better. She revealed that the only thing that has helped her was to come home and follow the drum. Frances says she is glad to see the feathers (Sacred Hoop) here. It has taken her a long time to try to forgive what happened in the boarding school. It has been a long journey for her. Francis believes there is no end to what the chimokeman (white man) does to our people. But she is on the journey to forgiveness, finally. She prays every day to learn to forgive, to walk the Red Road. She hopes and prays that our kids don’t go through what we went through; that our kids are treated with respect. She wants to forget whatever took place and forgive wholly from her heart. She thinks she took the first step today.

The Red Lake Wellbriety Drum

St. Mary’s Mission Church in Red Lake celebrated its 120–year anniversary on June 21, 2009. St. Mary’s boarding school was the mission school that began under contract with the federal government in 1889. Father Pat of St. Mary’s participated in the Forgiveness gathering at Red Lake on June 11, sharing with us both in words and with prayer.

Father Pat says he will be leaving soon after 12 years at St. Mary’s. He has learned many things here and he appreciates all of it. He goes on to say, “Am I responsible for the past? Yes in part. How does one make amends?” He said there are individual apologies that he needs to make and he would like to apologize for his predecessors. He assures us that we will always be in his prayers, for continued healing and reconciliation. We are glad Father Pat was able to share in the Forgiveness Gift of the Sacred Hoop with us in Red Lake today.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

A young drummer


White Earth Indian School
White Earth, MN, June 10, 2009

Powerful Healing at White Earth

The Honor Guard with 5 Staffs at the Opening. Joe Potter (front, right) carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff

The White Earth Anishinabe (Ojibwe) Nation is situated on about 1100 square miles of land in northwestern Minnesota. Its name comes from Gaa-waabaabiganikaag, or "Where there is white clay" in Ojibwe. Before our visit in White Earth was finished we would be given two bricks made of that white clay to carry with us on the rest of the Journey––old bricks from the White Earth boarding school site of the late 1800s.

The event was held at the White Earth RTC building on the rez in White Earth, Minnesota. About 75 people showed up to carry on the work of talking about the historical trauma of the boarding school years––exposing it to the light of day so all of us, especially the youth, can go on. We were fortunate to have Erma Vizenor, Chairwoman of the White Earth Nation present to help open the day. Ms. Vizenor carried on our tradition of having tribal government behind the Journey. MC for the day was Andy Favorite, and he is a favorite. Andy is very knowledgeable about our history here in White Earth and with the treaties and other documentation that is out there. He is a historian and a good storyteller for the community.

Panel discussion in White Earth, Andy Favorite is on the left

The day at White Earth was blessed with an especially strong healing presence through ceremony. There were no fewer than five Eagle Staffs in attendance and they watched over us as the sharing of the old boarding school stories took place. It seemed like the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff was among its brothers and sisters. In fact, the Wellbriety Eagle Staff was carried in by Joe Potter, who was one of the people who had gifted the Staff to White Bison over a year earlier at the National Conference in Minneapolis.

The White Earth Honor Guard blessed us with their presence along with the Eagle Spirit Drum––Henry Fox, Sonny Wadena, Greg Blue, Frank Stech, Dan Jourdain, and Lucas Hisgun. Earl Hoaglund was the spiritual advisor for this event. The Hoop was carried in by Dean Johnson, Martha Williams, Bryce King-Hanks, and Monte Bower. And we couldn’t have done it without the help of those who made this this event happen. Maintenance: Patti C., Al B. Jeff and Ted M. Volunteers: Gina B., Jean D., Dean J., Mary F., Lorna L., Char L. The Kitchen: Cindy and Char H. And Jesse F. for the sound system and equipment.

Don Coyhis (right) receives cedar and 2 bricks of white clay from the original boarding school site from Bob Shimick during the gathering

The day’s healing work consisted of the opening ceremony, presentations, sharing of stories by both panel and participants, and the closing healing ceremony. The schools connected with White Earth in historic times include the White Earth boarding school, the Pine Point School, the Wild Rice River School, and St. Benedict's Industrial School, located in St. Joseph some 125 miles from the reservation. St. Benedict’s Industrial School was established in 1884 when St. Benedict’s Convent contracted with the U.S. government. That was how the Catholic Church became a part of the suppressive government system of the boarding school era.

Bob Shimick related one of the powerful and healing stories of the day. Bob connects religion with pain. He told us that in the 70s and 80s, just after the boarding school era was over, he had been called by the ancestors to go to St. Benedict’s school site and have ceremony for the spirits that are still there. He believes that the spirits were stuck here. “They have no belief system to get them to the other side,” he said. He said the ceremony was done at sundown. Four people showed up at his invitation, just enough to perform the ceremony. During the first round they prayed about why they were there. Nothing significant happened. During the second round the lodge was full of other (spirit) people. At the third and fourth doors, more and more different people appeared each time. Now Bob wonders if someone needs to go back and do it again. Doing that ceremony was part of his healing he told us. Maybe it is time for such ceremonies to become part of others’ healing.

The Eagle Spirit Drum

Bob went over to the old boarding school site in White Earth after lunch and brought back some cedar from the large trees there and two white clay bricks that were part of the now non-existent building. He said, “Some of these bricks from here carry the story from the earliest days. Be mindful of the history.” He tells us that, where we are at right now, there have been 40 recent attempted suicides. Bob goes on to say that cedar is the spirit of truth. Those cedar trees witnessed the history he says. He requested that we on the Forgiveness Journey carry the bricks and the cedar along on our way.

Healing Ceremony

There were so many touching, sad, and heart-wrenching stories shared at the gathering in White Earth. For example, Donna remembers being the one to get punished because the nuns wanted them to be quiet and passive. She would do the opposite. For seven years Donna did not see her family. Donna said she became a belligerent big mouth. She would talk in church when she wasn’t suppose to. The nuns would save up a collection of soap in a jar, make her chew on it and blow bubbles in class. Donna said the inside of her mouth was shredded because of the harsh lye. Donna is also left-handed. She told us the nuns would make her practice writing right handed. Donna said the nuns would bend her across the iron beds and whip the back of her legs with a rubber hose. She says she never learned, so the nuns gave up on her and told her she was going straight to hell. But she is who she is and they couldn’t change her, she said. However, she said that she grew up to believe violence was okay. She thought that if her man didn’t beat her, he didn’t love her. It has taken her a lifetime to unlearn.

Why we Journey

There were so many other stories, and everyone of them was heard.

The White Earth region is the home country of three of us traveling with the Journey––Marlin Farley, Chris Young and Maria LaFriniere. “It was very good to get to my homeland and share this with the community where I was raised,” Maria exclaims. “I am glad some of my family was there to participate.” Maria goes on to speak about how she felt about coming home as part of the Journey. She puts it into perspective for all of us:

“Hearing some of the participants this afternoon and knowing the things that happened in their life and in their children’s lives gave me an awareness that this is exactly what the journey mission is all about. Because of the trauma of the boarding schools, this man abused his wife and children…because of that he was unable to raise his children in a healthy way and those children are now alcoholic and their lives are in turmoil. All of this poison is inside of us because we were taught not to talk about it. Now we carry it around inside of us and punish ourselves and others because we think we are not worthy of being heard. We do not even know how to be heard or what is even wrong. There is no one to tell because no one is listening. Today, some were heard because we were all there listening. The ceremony we all participated in today was needed by many.”

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Rapid City, SD June 8, 2009

Black Hills Sharing

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Opening ceremony at the Rapid City gathering

The Land around what is now Rapid City, South Dakota is Lakota land. The Ft. Laramie Treaty of 1868 guarantees that the Black Hills are to be part of that Lakota land, but the Treaty has not been honored. For our visit to Rapid City we were pleased to hear about historical trauma and boarding school issues from a Lakota viewpoint.

The event was held at the Mother Butler Center with about 15 people to start out, and by lunch time it grew to approximately 25 people in attendance. Each of the visits have Ceremony, Presentations, Sharing and Visiting with one another. There was some great sharing in Rapid City. Each of the sharing sessions in the different communities brings up some topics in common, and some brand new ones. The sharing in Rapid City brought up much that is new. Here is a summary of some of the sharing taken right from our notes.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Don Coyhis gives his presentation in Rapid City

Tonia R. Stands
Tonya acknowledges the suffering of the ancestors that were in the boarding schools. She would also like us to acknowledge the Native people that had to go underground in order to survive and preserve the traditions. She says that they were given one pound of meat per family, per day to survive on. She is talking of the people that did not live on an agency but carried on off the reservations.

A lot of the people had no choice but to go to boarding schools she tells us. As hard as it was, she says, at least they were fed three times a day. She reiterates that we need to acknowledge the people who suffered and starved to keep the tradition and culture alive, the ones that did not go to boarding school but went underground with their ways. Tonia also speaks about the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. She says that Lakota people still don’t have their sacred ways and places back. We want our ways back and our Black Hills back she says. There is a true connection to our culture and spirituality there.

Max Mazzeti

Zada, a young participant

Gene Tyan
Gene’s grandparents, mom and all of his uncles attended boarding school. His grandfather went to Carlisle. He recalls his grandfather would tell a funny story about Jim Thorpe. He would say “Jim Thorpe must have been a fast Indian, cuz every time I looked over my shoulder when I was running there he was.” Some people were glad to go to the Pine Ridge boarding school because home life was so bad for them he says. He talks about spirituality and the Sundance and how it helped him to change his life. Gene says that his people and his ancestors belong in the Black Hills because that is where they came from. Yes, they have migrated around for survival, but we are from these Hills he says. This is our homeland.

George and Pauline Murrillo

The Bravehearts at the gathering

Jacquie Arpan
Jacquie Arpan said when she carried the Hoop in today that the energy was so strong she became dizzy and had to close her eyes. She attended a Catholic boarding school for 12 years. She called it “doing time.” Ms. Arpan says the treatment was not as severe as that which the ancestors received. She says they were punished by eating soap, getting paddled with ping pong paddles, and kneeling in the hall late at night. She recalls cleaning the steps with toothbrushes, but the punishment was not as extreme as in an earlier time. She also recalls never being acknowledged, or their culture ever being acknowledged until 1972 when they began to openly have powwows and medicine men that came in.

George and Pauline Murrillo

The Sacred Black Hillls as seen from downtown Rapid City

Fern Cloud
Fern Cloud is from Minnesota. She drove here today to see the presentation. Fern’s great grandmother raised her. Her grandmother went to Carlisle, and then became a schoolteacher. Fern recalls always being aware she was an Indian. She is the youngest in a family of nine. Out of the nine children, Fern was the only one that did not have to go to boarding school. She goes on to say that her brothers and sisters are all pretty much assimilated.

Fern’s mother went to boarding school in Pierre. She grew up confused, punished and scared to speak her Native language. It was painful for Fern to hear the stories. Ms. Cloud now works for a sexual assault advocacy program. She has gotten her life together through spirituality she says, she found her way back. But it did not happen overnight. Assimilation unfortunately works. It took her many years to get back. Fern struggled with trust issues. She says public school was traumatic for her as well. She was treated differently. She had no identity in public school. Fern was the only American Indian in her class. Fern said it doesn’t take a whole bunch of people to make change, only strong prayer and a strong heart.

Dave Brave Heart
Dave’s grandfather died of alcoholism. Unlike his father and grandfather, he didn’t experience the traditional stories. He knows the message was there that it is bad to be an Indian, that the Indian way is evil, and that we are going to change you. It makes Dave sad to know that Indian people had to experience this. Dave’s dad spoke Lakota until he was ten and then entered the boarding school. His dad told him the system prepared him to be a good warrior in the Army. The Army training was nothing compared to the school, his dad told him.

Dave remembers witnessing his first Sundance in the late 60s. He remembers that the powwow and the Sundance were in the same arbor. It isn’t done that way now he says, but that was the first time he was exposed to Native culture. Dave remembers reading “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” in the early 70’s. He says he was angry that no one told him about the things he read there. Dave said because of how we were treated, no one wanted to talk about the history. Dave says healing from historical trauma goes back to learning history. Today Dave teaches his kids the history. They spend a lot of time working on it and he believes the current TV documentary “We Shall Remain” is very powerful.

Another man stood up to tell his story. He said the only good thing about boarding school was meeting his wife. This gentleman went to three different boarding schools over a 13-year period. It was evident that he had much to share. It was stuck inside of him. It was apparent that he does not talk about these experiences and carries them with him wherever he goes. “Experiences at the boarding schools come into my mind often,” he said to us. “I will get over it one of these years!” The pain went right inside of me and stuck there for many miles on our drive eastward after the event was over. Perhaps today was a beginning for him to start sharing some of this with others so he can be free of this devastation and pain. Mitakuye Oyasin.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Genoa Indian Industrial School
Genoa, NE, June 6, 2009

A Ceremony at the Genoa Indian School Site

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Volunteers from the Genoa US Indian School Foundation stand next to a memorial for the school

Genoa, Nebraska today is a town of approximately 1000 located about 110 miles due west of Omaha. The U.S. Indian Industrial School at Genoa was the fourth off-reservation Indian boarding school created by the government at the start of the Boarding School Era. Founded in 1884, it was “home” to thousands of Indian children until closing in 1934. The students that came to the Genoa Indian School were from ten states and over 20 tribes. In time the school grew from the original 74 students to an enrollment of nearly 600, and encompassed over 30 buildings on 640 acres.

The Genoa Indian School was one of the large schools of the early boarding school era. Not much is left of it today. The Indian School building that remains is the Manual Training building. The Genoa US Indian School Foundation recently purchased it from the City of Genoa. Through the restoration efforts of the Foundation, the building has been restored to include a museum on the first floor an d other rooms refurbished for viewing by the general public. The museum exhibits some of the history that the Foundation has been able to present about the school’s 50 year existence.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

A refurbished school room in the Indian School building

Our visit to Genoa Indian School was not a public event. We simply wanted to honor and to remember our many relatives who laughed and cried, lived, and even died there. We wanted to include this site in former Pawnee country with the prayers carried by the Sacred Hoop and the Wellbriety Forgiveness Eagle Staff. Prayers and good wishes that had come from 12 previous site visits and now are alive in these sacred objects. We wanted to tell any remaining little spirits that they were not forgotten.

We had arranged to meet a group of volunteers and staffers of the Genoa US Indian School Foundation who were glad to help us in our mission. They took on the role of the Hoop and Staff carriers. We smudged and prayed before going into the Indian School building. We walked through the floors and smudged all those memories. Outside the building, a sandstone memorial reads, “In memory of the Native Americans who attended the Genoa U.S. Indian School, 1884-1934. Especially those who died and may have been buried here.”

Max Mazzeti

Genoa US Indian School Foundation volunteers carried the Staff and the Sacred Hoop through the building

The closing date for the school is significant. It was in 1934 that the U.S. government signed into law the Indian Reorganization Act, or IRA. Enactment of the IRA officially marked a change in U.S. policy away from the assimilation practices directed at Native children through abuse of education. This probably happened for two reasons. The government realized that assimilation through education had failed. Also, the country was in the Great Depression. Still, it took until about 1970 before true Indian control of education could begin.

There are still some surviving letters from Genoa students that give a glimpse at what it was like in those days. For example, student Luke Going used his newly acquired writing skills in 1921 to request a transfer to Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas because Haskell offered more of an academic curriculum. He wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC and bypassed the regional Superintendent because he probably knew what the Superintendent’s response would be. Luke’s surviving letter says,

“I have the honor to request that I be transferred from Genoa Indian School Genoa Nebr. to Lawrence Kansas, I mean the Haskell Institute, to complete my education, would like to take a 4 year course. I have being (sic) at Genoa school six years and wish a change and better my self in line of education. I am eligible for the 7th grade. I enclose my certificate of promotion for your information.”

George and Pauline Murrillo

The entrance to the refurbished building

The local Superintendent had to explain his refusal to grant Luke’s request to the Commissioner. Here is his response to his boss.

“I have the honor to state that this boy is a very good pupil. He has been here six years and has made his grade each year. He will be in the 7th grade this next term.

“He will never make an office man. It would be a waste of time and money for him to undertake a commercial course. He will, in all probability, devote his time to farm pursuits after finishing his next term. At least, that in my opinion, is what he should do. The school is convenient and a number from his reservation are enrolled here. He can receive as good advantages here as at any government school, therefore, I recommend the disapproval of his application for transfer.”

George and Pauline Murrillo

The museum portion of the building features tribal flags

We also heard a story about a young student who later became the Reverend Sidney H. Byrd. Sidney had a hard time at the school during his first three years. He could not go home during that time. He was unable to communicate with his grandparents when he finally returned home. He was unable to speak his native language. It had been beaten out of him. Today he is proud to be one of the few remaining tribal members who is capable of reading and writing in the Dakota language. One of our hosts in Genoa told us that Sid came back recently for a reunion. In the early days Sid used to go to the same tree and cry everyday. It was his crying tree. While he was there for the reunion he sought out the tree. There was only a stump where the tree used to stand.

We are grateful to the volunteers and staff of the Genoa US Indian School Foundation for restoring the Genoa Indian School building so that its human history will not be lost. We are also grateful to be able to offer ceremony at the former school so that today’s Native people may heal from the lingering effects of the boarding school times.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Imagine a lonely seven year old Lakota boy hundreds of miles away from home he left two years ago, trying desperately to remember his grandmothers smile and his grandfather’s wisdom…

Imagine the confusion, the excitement, the horror of twenty different Nations blended together in one small school on the prairie…

Imagine a new language, a new way of life…some ways good, some ways not…The sounds of five hundred children working, learning, playing, drilling…

Imagine the broken hearts and the broken spirits that will take years to mend…Some will never heal.

Imagine not knowing when you see Grandfather again, you will not know his words…his stories, passed down for generations, will be lost to you…You will only understand his tears and he, yours…Close your eyes and listen…It all happened here.

Jerry W. Carlson,
Genoa US Indian School Foundation
Genoa U.S. Indian School
Genoa, Nebraska, 6/2007


Haskell Indian Nations University —
Lawrence, KS, June 5, 2009

Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Jeremy and Jeremy, Jr. sing and drum for the opening ceremony

The history of Haskell Indian Nations University begins at the very start of the boarding school era and runs all the way to the space age. Haskell participated in some of the earliest cultural assimilation practices directed against Indian people but has survived to offer good Indian education today.

Haskell began in 1884 as the United States Indian Industrial Training School. Later it was called Haskell Institute. By 1970 it began offering a junior college curriculum and became Haskell Indian Junior College. By 1993 it evolved still further to become Haskell Indian Nations University. It is one of the few schools in the Tribal College System to offer BA and BS degrees. Today’s student enrollment is about 1000 Native people each semester. The school offers four-year degrees in American Indian Studies and Environmental Science. It hosts the American Indian and Alaska Native Climate Change Working Group whose goal is to take immediate steps to ensure that tribal Peoples will have the expertise within their own communities to make good decisions about environmental issues. Haskell has come a long way without losing touch with Native culture.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Panel discussion at Haskell, including Brandy JO

There were about 20 people at this intimate gathering. The day began with Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop behind a veteran’s color guard consisting of Travis Schuler, Steve Zotigh, Ricky Cliff, Antonio S. Gomez and Andy Yellowhair. Hoop carriers were Melissa Franklin, Deb Thompson, David Bohannon and Carol Barr. Ashley Aguilar carried Brandy Jo in. Andy Girty offered the opening prayer, and the opening drum song was done by Jeremy Shield and his four year-old son Jeremy, Jr. Dr. Russell Blackbird welcomed us to Haskell, and Bobbi Rahder, Curator of the Haskell Cultural Center was present as a participant.

Max Mazzeti


The Haskell Cultural Center is a campus facility that has a permanent informational exhibit about Haskell’s early boarding school years. It is called, Honoring our Children Through Seasons of Sacrifice, Survival, Change and Celebration. The exhibit has letters from early boarding school parents and children and numerous photographs and commentary linking the Haskell experience to the over-500 boarding and residential schools in the US and Canada. Ms. Rahder found the opening informational presentation useful. “I was really impressed with Don Coyhis’s opening presentation,” she said. “It connected the boarding school experience with the many problems that Native people have today. I think it is important for people to see that connection. The PowerPoint did a really good job of making it clear.” The Center will have its own web page in the near future.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Sacred Hoop Healing Ceremony at Haskell

Our visit was also honored to have present Ms. Patricia Marn, Director of the Haskell Campus Ministries. Ms. Marn is a First Nations person from the Flying Dust Reserve in Saskatchewan. Reached later on, she reflected on the messages of the Journey that she heard during the Haskell visit that day. She said, “The next generation needs to hear this message. There is intergenerational grief among First Nations people and it is carried down. I believe that in order for this next generation to move forward there needs to be the release of forgiveness. I really liked Don Coyhis’s comment,” she recalls. “He said that even if President Obama doesn’t openly apologize, but I believe he will, that what we are doing is not about money, it’s about forgiveness. I believe it’s the timing of God,” she concludes.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Memorial at the Haskell Cemetery

A panel discussion was the second informational event of the morning session. Panel members were Andy Girty, Burgess Tapedo, Millie Tapedo and Rosemary Jimboy. If you look at the photo you’ll see that Brandy Jo was also a part of the panel.

After the closing Sacred Hoop ceremony, a few people went over to the Haskell Cemetery to do a memorial at the grave sites. We learned that there are 108 gravestones, some marked and some unmarked. But it is also known that there are many more graves in the cemetery grounds, as well as outside the cemetery, unmarked in any manner.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


The Sequoyah High School Story
Tahlequah, Oklahoma, June 4, 2009

“I am not brain washed, I am not defeated, and you have failed.”

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

The Girls Choir of the Cherokee Youth Group sang for the gathering

The roots of Sequoyah High School in the Cherokee Nation at Tahlequah, Oklahoma go back to 1871, before the government’s official culture cleansing policies of the boarding school era began in 1879. The Sequoyah schools suffered under government control until 1985 when the Nation took over their operation. Today’s campus now consists of 90 acres and more than a dozen buildings. The high school is regionally and state accredited for grades 7-12. Now, Sequoyah Schools enroll more than 300 students representing 42 tribes and 14 different states. It is a boarding school that has survived BIA influences and now serves Indian students under tribal control.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Preparing the Sacred Hoop for entry

We began bright and early on a clear and sunny day. All participants met and greeted each other at the Cherokee Nation Complex. Dana Tiger, Visit Coordinator and long-time friend of White Bison was very grateful to have the Sacred Hoop in her community. Her eyes welled up with tears as we prepared to carry the Sacred Hoop into Sequoyah High School. Don expressed to her to go ahead and cry for tears are the highest form of prayer.

This was the eleventh visit on the Forgiveness Journey––how familiar the preparation to carry in the Sacred Hoop had become! Today’s Hoop carriers would be co-coordinators Brenda Golden and Dana Tiger, as well as Dwayne Marshall and Corgney Geshick. Dana’s daughter Christy Tiger would carry in Brandy Jo. Don looked on as Marlin smudged us with sage and cedar. Today the Staff would be carried in by alternative school teacher Mitch Walking Elk who had come all the way from St. Paul, Minnesota with a group of his students for the event. Mitch is originally an Oklahoma boy. He wanted to share his boarding school experiences with us and provide an educational moment for his students.

Max Mazzeti

Mitch Walking Elk from St. Paul, Minnesota carried in the Eagle Staff

Everyone strolled from the Complex over to the Sequoyah High School gymnasium where we had the presentations, sharing and songs. Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation Joe Grayson gave the opening prayer and the welcome. We are deeply grateful to the Nation for hosting this visit. They set up the gym, provided lunch, set up tables and the sound system. There were about 50 participants during the day. The tribe allowed students from two of their alternative summer schools to take part, throwing their support behind both the healing and educational benefits of the gathering.

The Cherokee Youth Group blessed us with songs sung in Tsalagi (Cherokee). It was awesome to hear the young people singing in their own language. They were dressed in beautiful ribbon dresses and their presence began the day on a happy note. Their song is such a strong example of the role played in healing by the collective memory we learned about just the day before in Anadarko.

Coordinators Dana Tiger and Brenda Golden gave opening talks. Sharing our boarding school experiences, or what we remember being told in our growing-up families, is what the Journey is all about. Many of us know how important it was to enter the Circle and speak of our own troubles with alcohol and drugs. Sharing those hard experiences in a cultural way is part of Indian recovery. Now we are going further to openly share what we feel are the roots or the causes of substance abuse and other troubled behaviors in the first place. What we are doing is the healing and wellness that comes after recovery––keeping the Indian heart alive.

George and Pauline Murrillo

A few participants in Tahlequah

Brenda had no idea that her mother had gone to boarding school until much later in life. It wasn’t talked about. Later, her mother shared stories with her about Seneca Indian School in Miami, Oklahoma where she was sent. The kids wore little white cotton dresses, bobby socks and saddle shoes she said. The matrons would not allow her to speak with any of her brothers or sisters. Brenda brought up for the first time something we hadn’t heard yet on the Journey. She said that during the time her mom went to boarding school is when the schools would perform sterilization on many of the young girls. They might go into hospital for appendicitis or something else only to realize afterward that, for example, they had received a hysterectomy.

Tony Robichaud

Jeremy-a young participant

Brenda told us that her mother was unable to go home for the holidays, birthdays or even when someone passed on. Her mother did not know what it was like to love or be loved. She had no family connection. Brenda remembers that she was 30 before she was able to hug her mom or express love. Because Brenda did not receive love growing up, she had a difficult time sharing love with her own children. Reflecting on the forced sterilizations in her mother’s time Brenda said, “By the grace of the Creator, my mother was not sterilized while she was there.”

Mitch Walking Elk shared some songs with us during lunch. He talked about his experience when the State of Oklahoma told his mother, who was deaf, that she either had to put him in boarding school or they were going to take him away and put him in a foster home. She sent him to Seneca Indian School where he was beaten and abused because he wouldn’t follow the rules. Mitch’s spirit knew he didn’t want to go to boarding school. He always blamed his mother for putting him there. Part of his own healing was to understand what kind of pressure she had been under. He told us he has a message for the Government. “I am not brain washed, I am not defeated, and you have failed,” he said.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Walking in the Sacred Hoop

Carmen Klinekole, who was also a coordinator at the Riverside (Anadarko) visit, participated in Tahlequah. She told us her daughter attended Sequoyah high school for one semester because she needed to get away from the drugs she had fallen into in her home community. Carmen’s daughter did a paper on boarding schools and her teacher asked her if she was making the information up. It is apparent that this information is not in the school systems she said. Carmen believes we need to get the history into our schools. Carmen then blessed us by singing Amazing Grace, in English and in her Native Language. She proudly tells us that she is Christian, she goes to church, but she is an Indian too.

The day came to a close with a Sacred Hoop Healing Ceremony held at the Tahlequah cemetery just across the road. There are unmarked graves for 32 little ones in the cemetery. Any one of the graves might be that of a family ancestor for anyone in the community. We took the Sacred Hoop onto a path to the cemetery where there are markers. The Cherokee Nation has erected little markers for each of the graves and a pathway to each grave. We walked out to the center of the cemetery and Emmon Spain, a Seminole, sang a traditional Creek song that means, We will meet again. After the song, Marlin smoked us all with sage and cedar and we carried the Hoop back to the cemetery marker where everyone was smudged.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Students from Minnesota at the Tahlequah event

The day in Tahlequah was powerful and moving. What might it have accomplished? A few days later coordinator Brenda Golden thought a bit about that and said, “I think young people will be freer to talk about this as a result of this gathering. We had people bring their children and we had students from the area. I do believe it opened some eyes. For myself, when I realized what my mother had gone through it helped explain how she dealt with me. So I think that young people can say, ‘Oh! That’s why…’ It puts things into perspective for them.”

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

Click here for an article and photos from the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper... >


Riverside Indian School
Anadarko, OK, June 3, 2009

A Strong Turnout at Riverside Indian School

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Don Coyhis (right) and Kerry Holton, President of the Delaware Tribe of Oklahoma (center) meet

The visit to Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma was a vibrant, happy day. We left our motel at 6:00 a.m. to arrive onsite for the Sunrise Ceremony. When we arrived at the site, there was a bit of setting up to do and we all cooperated to make things happen. The rain subsided by the time we arrived and it turned out to be quite a windy day. Young people from the community had set up a large revival tent the day before. It was evident by the turnout and organization that the coordinators worked very hard to get things ready for this event.

The forerunner of the present Riverside Indian School was first established in 1871 and is now a modern BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school serving grades 4-12. The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness visit in Anadarko on June 3 was held on land of the Caddo, Delaware and Wichita and Affiliated tribes (WCD) adjacent to the campus of the Riverside Indian School. We were not permitted access to the school’s grounds by order of a local officer of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Riverside is the first and only BIA school to deny entry to the Journey since we began at another BIA school (Chemawa Indian School in Oregon) on May 16.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Prayer Walk starting off the day at Riverside Indian School

The Sunrise Ceremony began at 7:00 AM. A group of people gathered at the far end of the land and walked down Riverside Lane with the Sacred Hoop, the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff, many Tribal Flags, and the American Flag into the tented area where we held the Ceremony. Of all the visits yet, this one had the greatest representation of Tribal governments. There are seven tribes located in the region around Anadarko, Oklahoma. Today we were fortunate to have present representatives from four, including the president of a new tribal college.

Tribal representatives included Wallace Coffey, Chairman of the Comanche Nation; Stratford Williams, Vice-President of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes; Shirley Howery, Business Committee of the Caddo Nation; and Kerry Holton, President of the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma. We were also honored to have with us Dr. Henrietta Mann, President of the new Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribal College and a member of the White Bison’s Wellbriety Council of Elders.

Max Mazzeti

Frances Wise and two community children

The drum sang the procession into the large tent and all participants were blessed with cedar. A prayer ceremony took place. MC Wallace Coffey spoke about Medicine Bluff, a sacred prayer ground. Mr. Coffey and others have been fighting to stop the erection of a building on this Sacred Ground. They won the fight and will be having a gathering on June 22, 2009, at Medicine Bluff to celebrate. He said he will be thinking and praying for White Bison and the Journey for Forgiveness on June 22 during this gathering.

We were also honored to have other important events take place during the opening ceremony. The Mayor of Anadarko presented a Proclamation passed by City Council of the city of Anadarko to Don Coyhis and the White Bison organization. It declared June 3 as the city’s Hoop Journey 2009 Indian Boarding School Awareness Day. All of Indian country was also blessed to have Pastor Ted Mercer give an apology for the atrocities that were done to the first people of this land. President Holton from the Delaware Nation spoke briefly to the gathering and thanked Don for all of his efforts on this journey. He told us that 23 Citizens from the Delaware Nation attended Carlisle Indian School in historic times.

Ernie Silva

Dr. Henrietta Mann

Among the morning speakers was Frances Wise, a member of the Coordinating Committee, which did the hard work to make all this happen. Ms. Wise added a new idea into the conversation about historical and intergenerational trauma that has been taking place at each of these visits––collective memory. What is collective memory and what role does it have in the boarding school discussions? Here is what Frances Wise said when we talked with her afterward.

“Historical trauma, which spawns intergenerational trauma, are negatives,” she said. “The only way we were able to sustain ourselves as a people and come out with any semblance of a healthy people is by our collective memory, which reaches back to the beginning of time. It remembers the healthy context of everything we were before the first non-Indian came to our land. It remembers when we lived in a much healthier way, in a traditional way. That’s how we’ve been able to sustain ourselves through all the horrible things that have happened to us,” she continued. “Our collective memory is important to the survival of the indigenous people of this continent. It is an integral part of our survival,” she concludes.

George and Pauline Murrillo

he Riverside Planning Committee (coordinators)

About 115 to 130 people attended the Riverside event. Some of the real heart connection at these events always takes place during the panel and open mic discussions when individuals can share their boarding school stories. Sharing them helps us let go of them and move on.

Cecelia Tsosie’s story of her abuse at Riverside in the 1960’s, and continued abuse throughout her life hit the very core of many in the audience. Cecelia was not only raped and beaten numerous times during her year in Riverside by other students, but she has been abused her entire life by foster homes, the boarding school and a husband of 18 years. Cecelia has endured more beatings and surgeries from the abuse than most people could ever survive. She has the spirit of a golden eagle that soars above the pain and suffering to be a compassionate, giving soul. Her strength, perseverance and obvious love for humankind are very difficult to put into words. Her sharing touched and moved many people today.

Tony Robichaud

Youth check it out

Lenore Parker works with children in a boarding school today. Society calls these children at risk to fail. She says that not one dormitory manager knew her name while she attended Fort Sill Indian School in 1960. She said that when she first went to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma, she brought her paperwork in. The woman that she was speaking with was from the same tribe Lenore was from. The woman looked at her paperwork, handed it back to her and said, don’t go and get pregnant. That was the extent of her entrance intake. Today in Ms. Parker’s job, she makes sure she knows all of the kids’ names attending the school where she works. She has turned it around. She says love isn’t love until you give it away.

The closing story was from Tommy Johnson. Tommy entered Ft. Sill Indian School when he was six years old. His mother had died from TB. His father left him at the boarding school because he couldn’t manage with six children. Tommy was angry at his mother for so many years because she died and left him. He remembers that he would get behind one of the buildings at Ft. Sill Indian School to curl up and cry. The bigger girls would come and try and comfort him. Pretty soon they would all be crying because they were so lonely for their families. He said in later life he didn’t know how to tell people he loved them. No one ever told him that they loved him. It wasn’t until years later when he had a blessing from the spirits that he was able to forgive his mother. When he forgave his mother he stopped drinking.

There is no way to experience the full impact of this sharing but to come to one of the gatherings. Local people were grateful to White Bison for deciding to come to Riverside. Participants will take all kinds of ideas and concepts back into the community to talk about. The kind of conversation that happened during the gathering will begin to grow. One coordinator said that part of what made Wednesday so special is that people got to talk about it to other people, to a lot of others at one time. It was cleansing. It was like lifting 100 tons of weight off your spirit.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

riverside indian school

The Journey was denied access to the grounds of Riverside Indian School for the day-long event by the BIA. The event was held on tribal land adjacent to the campus


Albuquerque Indian School
Albuquerque, NM, May 31, 2009

A Good Day in Albuquerque

The Albuquerque Indian School was in existence from 1881 until 1982. When it came to an end, its students were transferred to the Santa Fe Indian school just 60 miles north of Albuquerque. In 2006, a U.S. Department of the Interior office complex was built at the site of the former Albuquerque Indian School. But a handful of earth from there was brought to the Forgiveness Journey gathering in Albuquerque so that the spirit of the former school could be present. Who brought it? A Jewish Rabbi who had been invited to take part in the day.

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Teri Clah

“He understands what the Native Americans are going through,” said Terri Clah, one of the organizers who helped make the gathering happen. “He brought a message to our gathering to relate to Native Americans. He went to the former Albuquerque Indian School location and brought back dirt with him. He spoke to us and he lifted it before the Creator and asked the Creator to heal the Native Americans that were mistreated on those grounds. It was powerful,” she said with awe in her voice.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Sam English

The Albuquerque gathering took place at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center through the good work of local people with only three weeks notice. Sometimes it happens that way. About 50 people took part. Sam English, the well-known Indian artist who was at the gathering thanked everyone for coming and said he was grateful to see the crowd that did show up on a moment’s notice. The artist donated prints, cards and books for fund raising. It is acts of kindness like this that help us get from coast to coast on this Journey.

During Grand Entry, Sam English carried in the Eagle Staff. Waylon Paul, Joseph Brophy, Joann F. Henry and Lupe Bryan brought in the Sacred Hoop. And nine year-old Autumn LeValdo, Teri Clah’s granddaughter, carried in Brandy Jo. Grandmother Teri says that the honor of carrying in the Red Silhouette meant a lot to Autumn. “She understood the story that the little girl went through,” Ms. Clah remembered. “When she got home she was sharing it with her sisters. She stayed through whole event. She asked, why are they doing this, why are they doing that? She understood the boarding school issue. The kids haven’t been told what really happened,” she reflected.

Max Mazzeti

Hoop Carriers in Albuquerque

Why don’t many of our children know what happened? The visit in Albuquerque was indeed honored to have Dr. Mary Belgarde of the University of New Mexico speak to us about Indian history at the Albuquerque event. Ms. Belgarde has been a professor specializing in Indian education for 35 years. Some of her comments relate to this big gap in education for both Indian and non-Indian people.

“The boarding school era should be recognized and approved as part of social studies in language arts curricula in all schools, both Indian and non-Indian,” Ms. Belgarde said later. “Most histories start in 1492 in text books but they have very little information, a short paragraph, a page at best, on the boarding school era. It’s not in state standards or benchmarks and it’s not in teacher education programs so teachers don’t know how to address it. As a result, we never learned it in school. Even Native students didn’t learn it in school. They knew their parents went to boarding school, but as we know, they couldn’t probe too deeply about what experiences they had.”

Ernie Silva

Panel participants: L to R, Dr. Mary Belgarde, Evelyn Blanchard, and Jessie Weahku

Jessie Weahku, a young participant in the panel discussion was also upset about the lack of information out there about what really happened in the boarding schools. Ms. Weahku is a Charter Student at the Native American Academy. Jessie did a school investigation, a project on boarding schools. She said she was extremely angry about the fact that you could not look in a text book to find out this information. It is not taught.

The sharing in Albuquerque also revealed more information about the boarding schools by way of peoples’ recollections. Evelyn Blanchard called it a “complex phenomenon” and said many children go to boarding schools to get away from racism and just to get away from their current situations. The boarding schools are often better than what they have at home. She told us her father went to Carlisle in 1921 and Pratt’s philosophy was carried on by the all superintendents of that day. She mentioned the Outing Program at Carlisle, where kids didn’t go home but stayed and worked on farms or other places arranged for them during the summer. That was adventurous, but it further separated the children from their homes and families.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Jake Skye play traditional flute

Mabel Herrera’s father went to boarding school in 1914. He did not complete the 6th grade. He had a lot of problems with alcohol. Her mother also went to boarding school. Mabel is one of ten children, and eight were in the home while she was growing up. She learned survival in the home. At 11 she left her mom. She went to live with sister. Mabel never understood until today this is why her mom couldn’t hug her and love her. Mabel had a lot of anger towards her mom because she couldn’t love her.

She tells a story about her father before his passing. Mabel cared for him for the last 5 years of his life. One day she told her father that she loved him. He explained to her that no one had ever told him that before. No one had ever told her father that they loved him but her. Mabel was able to forgive her mother and father before they died. “There is relief today to be able to say that I understand. I believe today is a day for me as well as everyone else. It takes one person to make a difference and I am going to make a difference,” she said from the podium.

Tony Robichaud

Rae Anne Brophy with her family

Change begins in bits and pieces and in fits and starts. “All positive and lasting change starts on the inside and works its way out,” it is said. Is change happening? Yes it is. We heard from more than one person in Albuquerque that they finally realized some of why they and their families are the way they are. There were non-Native Christians present who prayed with us in their own way. We heard each other. And books with the truth about the boarding schools from a Native viewpoint are starting to appear. Please visit www.coyhispublishing.com and look for Understanding Native American Culture by Don Coyhis. We especially want to thank the coordinators of these events all across the nation for their hard work in allowing the Journey to take place. We honor you.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

Click here to read an interview with Dr. Mary Belgarde ... >


Phoenix Indian School
Phoenix, AZ, May 27, 2009

Entering a Prayer Space During the Phoenix, Arizona Visit

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

A view of participants at the Phoenix gathering

“I’m always amazed how much people open their hearts at these events,” Jeff Woolley reflected a few days after the Forgiveness Journey event in Phoenix.  “We had so many people giving testimony,” he said.  “You could really feel the pain coming out and being released.  There is such comfort and love present after that release.  And to have the Hoop there at the end of the day, to put the finishing touches with a healing ceremony, was a beautiful way to end it.”

Jeff is a therapist at the Wassaja mental health clinic at Ft. Mc. Dowell Indian Reservation on the outskirts of Phoenix.  Perhaps he saw something new enter an Indian counselor’s toolbox that day as people were empowered and encouraged to remember and to talk about their boarding school experience.  “I feel the emphasis on historic and intergenerational trauma is a missing link, a missing piece that Don and White Bison are bringing out in the open.  I’m in total agreement with his healing model and what he’s doing,” he concludes.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Nimrod Thomas, Sr. carries the Staff in Phoenix

The Phoenix Indian School began its 99 year history in 1891 and finally threw in the towel in 1990, not all that long ago.  Its span covered the very hurtful times to about 1970 or so, and then improved until disbanding.  An early slogan of the school was, “Be a Phoenix Indian, not a reservation bum.”  A careful look at a 1930’s photograph of the dining hall reveals another slogan: “There is no excellence without great labor.”  If you think about it in the light of using education to destroy culture, it is a scary motto disguised as something visionary.

Each visit on the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness naturally unfolds following the principles of what is sometimes called a shamanic journey.  Each event day is actually a sacred healing ceremony when taken as a whole––a medicine journey.  In a journey like this, a person goes down into the deepest reaches of him or herself, touches the necessary grief, and then comes back up.  In Phoenix that day, some 320 participants came in out of 100+ degree Phoenix springtime heat to journey down to where the grief work could be done, and then back up into daylight.

Max Mazzeti

Bernadine Burnnette delivers a keynote

The journey day began with grand entry of the Sacred Hoop, the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff, and the Red Silhouette of Brandy Jo.  The Fort McDowell Wellbriety Drum of the Yavapai Nation offered the heartbeat to take participants down into the earth for the grief work to come.  The Hoop Carriers were, Larry Robinson, James Butler, Sabrina Chester, and Ruth Lopez.  Nimrod Thomas, Sr. carried the Staff and James Butler’s daughter brought in Brandi Jo.  An Opening Prayer was offered by Wayne Juste of the Salt River/Gila River community.  Rory Majenty MC’d the day to make sure that what was supposed to happen did take place.

Our medicine journey unfolded as Bernadine Burnette, Vice President of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, keynoted a lively session in which she shared some of her own boarding school background and growing up.  She feels that the teachings of the boarding schools were there for a reason.  She never forgot where she came from or who she was.  She said the boarding school taught her discipline that has been useful in later life.

The real heart work of the day began with the panel discussion and continued with sharing among community members at an open mic.  We began to walk down into the mother earth –– the mother who can accept all stories.

Ernie Silva

Panel member Corey Hayes shares at the event

Corey Hayes of the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community has been a good friend of the White Bison work since the late 1980’s.  Corey was five years old when he first attended boarding school at the Stewart Indian School in Nevada.  Coming from Arizona, his first shock was experiencing snow.  He was confused at being there all alone.  The students beat him up all the time in the dorms because he was different.  He reports that he was kicked around by steel toes and got very angry.  While he attended Stewart, he started using inhalants and drinking to get drunk.  Instead of being a normal kid, he went the other direction.  He later was thrown out of the boarding school, and achieved a “bad boy” status.  Corey became addicted to alcohol but did the work of recovery.  With Creator’s help, he is now clean.  “You gotta heal yourself, gotta take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else,” Corey said.

George and Pauline Murrillo

Hedy Emery shares from the panel

Hedy Emery put her experience away and never spoke of it.  She grew up Navajo.  Her mother was Catholic and her father grew up in Apache Country.  Ms. Emery brought up the issue of boarding school names.  She says that children who went to boarding schools took on the teachers’ and principals’ names.  Her father became Henry Green because Green was the principal at the school he attended.  That’s why some Indian names sound anglicized, and last names sometimes sound like anglo first names.  Ms. Emery entered boarding school in the second grade and continued through high school.  She learned how to suppress her feelings and make them go away.  She recalls having to kneel, getting her hair pulled, and having soap in her mouth.  She grew up to be angry.

Tony Robichaud

Fern shares during the open mic session

During the afternoon there was an open mic so that anyone at all could share.  The kind of stories of the people who shared from the audience were similar to those of the morning panel.

Fern recalls running away from boarding school when she was five.  She hated it.  She recalls being yelled at and spanked all the time.  Spankings became a ritual.  The kids would get spanked for laughing because the teachers thought the kids were laughing at them.  The teachers brought much shame on the children.  They would tell her that she was filthy and smelled.  There were many obstacles for Fern throughout her life because of this kind of shaming.  Fern asked her children to forgive her.  She explained that she didn’t have parents.  Her parents were her boarding school teachers.  They made her ashamed of her language.  She always wished she didn’t have to ever attend school.  When Fern shared with us it was a very emotionally engulfing experience.  Fern was speaking from her heart––it was the beginning of healing for her.

Tony Robichaud

The Closing Healing Ceremony at the Hoop

The day was drawing to a close, the medicine story of the entire gathering coming to its conclusion.  What kind of an experience was it?  Did it have an overall balance?  We asked Jeff Woolley about this.  “I thought it was balanced,” he said.  “In these events, implicit in the way Don does them and the way we work with it, is a kind of prayer space.  Even though people spend a lot of time talking about trauma, and that is intense, to me it was healing the whole time.  The last hour or hour-and-a-half is the healing ceremony at the Hoop.  A participant ends the day in personal silence at the Hoop with the Wellbriety Drum playing all the time.”

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Sherman Indian School
Riverside, CA, May 26, 2009

The roots of Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California go back to the Perris Indian School, which was established in 1892 not far from where Sherman Indian High School stands today. By 1904 Perris Indian School came to an end and its students were transferred to the new Sherman Indian School. Perris, and then Sherman, were the first non-reservation Indian boarding schools in California.

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop.

Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop

Sherman Indian School was a government boarding school established to assimilate Indians into mainstream society following the brutal model set up by General Pratt and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. But Sherman survived over one hundred years of changes to become the excellent high school for Native Americans that it is today. Students come from more than 85 tribes in big cities and reservations across the country.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff.

Henry Allen Carries the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff

Wellbriety Day at Sherman began with the unifying Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop, the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff and the Red Silhouette of Brandy Jo. Carrying in the Hoop and the other elements was very spiritually charged. It is always a beautiful act because it sets spirituality at the very center of the coming day.

The Hoop Carriers on this warm California day were Julie Andrews, Jesus Cardenas, Randy Plummer and Josephine Montes Villa. Henry Allen carried the Eagle Staff and young Anna Buckley carried Brandy Jo. Allen Saul delivered the opening prayer and Dr. Richard Hanks welcomed us to Sherman. Then the mic was turned over to Don Coyhis of White Bison. Don set the tone of the day with a presentation that told some of the history and truth of what really happened during the boarding school era. Following Don’s orientation talk, Marlin Farley who is also traveling with the Journey talked about the meaning of the 100 Eagle Feather Hoop and its four gifts. Marlin also talked about the Hoop Ceremony, which everyone would get a chance to take part in later in the day.

Max Mazzeti

Max Mazzeti

The Elders’ panel was a high point of the morning. Max Mazzeti went to Sherman in 1940 and 1941. He recalled that it was rough for Indians because it was a military school in the 30s–– their hair was cut and they made them march. By the 40s it changed because the government had made a change of policy in 1934 and it was just taking affect in the 40’s. He remembers it as a great school and recalls listening to Glenn Miller, one of the great swing bands of the times.

Ernie Siva talked about Francisco Morongo who died in 1906, and whose name is carried by the nearby Morongo Indian Reservation. He said that Morongo told the natives that their time had come to change, that the white brother was coming and would take over. Mr. Siva said Morongo told the people not to ever forget their language or where you came from or you will be lost. Mr. Siva also said that, “…our languages are a gift from our Creator. Culture resides in our language even if you learn another one.”

Pauline Murillo said her mother had bad experiences in the boarding school. She said her mother told her the girls would get slapped, mistreated and isolated but that her mother would not give up. Her mother would still speak the language with the other girls while attending the boarding school. Her mother was always getting into trouble. She came home for Christmas one year and would not return.

Ernie Silva

Ernie Silva

Henry Allen was eight years old when he first started attending boarding school. He recalls a bus coming out to the Navajo Agency and loading them all up. He said the officials told the parents to let the children learn, but they did not tell the parents that they would get government issued clothing and have to march to and from places. Henry said his boarding school experience was helpful in the service.

Later in the afternoon there was an opportunity for sharing from the audience. One woman talked about her life with her mother who was a boarding school survivor. Her mother ran away from the boarding school when she was 13. She said that she had to learn everything on her own. She felt her mother didn’t love her. She never understood it until now. All her mother knew how to do is what the boarding school taught her. With her own children, she tries not to be the way her mother was to her.

George and Pauline Murrillo

George and Pauline Murrillo

Another participant said she remembers that her grandma found it very difficult to hug her children and grandchildren. She did not touch.

A non-Indian woman got up and apologized to the people. She says she has white shame and asked for forgiveness.

We talked with one of the organizers of the event in order to get some perspective about the healing process that people need to go through in order to face the legacy of what happened in the schools.

Tony Robichaud

Tony Robichaud

Tony Robichaud is a chemical dependency counselor with Riverside County Indian Health. He noted that a high percent of the panel had stories that reflected the positive aspect of their experiences. He noticed that the responses were guarded. He said people do have troubling stories, but it has been the habit of an older generation to choose the stories that are less painful so you can go on. It’s a kind of denial in order to survive. People use selective memory and talk only of non-painful places. The attitude is “forget it and go on,” which explains some people’s insistence to tell only good boarding school stories.

“As a counselor, I come from a spiritual basis and a psychological basis,” he told us. “If you don’t really recognize the source of the problem then you’re not in healing. There has to be recognition of what happened. This movement of remembering and forgiving is just so fundamentally sound from a counseling viewpoint. But it is going to take awhile for people to get used to it. Don’t give up,” he urged us.

Tony Robichaud


Sue Frank is another organizer for the day. She said, “My ancestors went to Perris school, which became Sherman school, and they all ran away. I was happy to do this because I wanted to know that they weren’t forgotten and I wanted to make sure that this would never happen again in anyone’s lifetime.” Was it a successful day? “The people who attended were meant to attend,” she said. “What was meant to happen, happened. And what people got out of it was meant to be. It always works that way, even though our turnout (about 75) was less than we expected. I’m glad it took place and that I could be a part of it.”

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Stewart Indian School
Carson City, NV, May 24, 2009

Saying the Unsayable at the Stewart Indian School Visit

The history of the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada stretches from 1890 until 1980. It spans the heart of the boarding school times and reflects the fade out of the boarding school era that took place from about 1970 until 1980. The school opened on December 17, 1890 with 37 students from local Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes and three teachers. It would soon go on to include students from Hopi, Apache, Pima, Mohave, Walapai, Ute, Pipage, Coropah and Tewa peoples.

The 100 Eagle Feather Sacred Hoop

The 100 Eagle Feather Sacred Hoop is carried in to begin the day

In its day, Stewart Indian School was a non-reservation federal boarding school later run by the BIA. It had responsibility for the Walker River Reservation from 1897 to 1908. In 1925, it merged with the Reno Agency to form the Carson Agency. The school was successively supervised by the Carson and Western Nevada Agencies until it closed in 1980. The site is picturesque and maintained quite well. A number of the buildings are boarded up and some are being refurbished.

Michelle McCauley sings  the Shoshone Flag Song

Michelle McCauley sings the Shoshone Flag Song

The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness made its visit to Stewart on a warm and sunny late spring Sunday. Before the day was out, about 100 people would participate in ceremonies, listen to an overview presentation about historic and intergenerational trauma by Don Coyhis, and maybe most importantly, listen to each other speak about their own remembrances. They would slowly begin to speak about the unspeakable, which is the start of healing from the negative parts of boarding school times.

Michelle McCauley sang the Shoshone flag song at the opening and her husband carried in the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff. Melba Rakow gave an opening prayer. The Red Hawk Warriors Drum, made up of Marvin Hand, Monty Williams, Elmer Atlookan and Jeff Davis, brought the heartbeat of the earth into the event with their traditional songs. Site coordinator Sherry Rupert introduced speakers and provided continuity throughout the day.

The Red Hawk Warriors  Drum Sings an Honor Song.

The Red Hawk Warriors Drum Sings an Honor Song

When community sharing began, it became clear that people had a lot to say that perhaps hadn’t had permission before. A gathering like this grants permission. Linda Melero is an alumna from the class of 1966 and is working on a video project. She shared her experience of interviewing Elders. She said she did not understand why the Elders would clam up and not speak about certain things any further. After hearing Don’s presentation, she said she began to realize the Elders’ inability to share their worst experiences are a result of historical boarding school trauma.

Thelma Delorme went to Stewart in 1941. Thelma remembered that her experiences weren’t bad. However, she recalls her grandfather and others being sent to the Federal Prison at Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay if they did not allow their children to be taken to the boarding schools. She remembers her grandfather spoke about being put in the dungeon at Alcatraz––in the black hole, he called it. He would tell her that the only light that shone through was light from a keyhole in the door. She also recalls stories of fingers being chopped off for speaking the Native Language.

Participants share their experiences of the boarding school times.

Participants share their experiences of the boarding school times

Buck Sampson is a 1968 graduate from Stewart and has ancestors who all went to the boarding school. As a 1968 graduate, Buck left right at the beginning of the transition made by all the historic boarding schools from the abuse begun in 1879, to the beginning of respect for Indian ways that slowly took root by 1980. Buck talked of his experience as well as the stories he heard from his father and grandfather.

When Buck graduated he had three scholarships in sports. He liked boxing the best. He says his mother told him that when she went to school at Stewart the counselors were sadistic. She told him they antagonized the children to fight amongst themselves. Buck said he invited people from the local community to come to today’s event. But he feels they are not ready to forgive. The response that he received from some was that there can be no forgiveness for what happened. The pain and memories are too deeply seeded.

All participants pray at the Hoop late in the day

All participants pray at the Hoop late in the day

Marshall is another community member who shared his experiences. He recalls being a child and his parents leaving him alone many nights. For a young boy it was a traumatic experience. He remembers that his parents didn’t hang out with the Elders but chose to hang out with their white friends who taught them they ways of alcohol. He recalls that they would come home and get all dressed up to go out and party. He wondered if they were going to feed him. It was like he wasn’t even there. Marshall never understood back then that it was trauma caused from the boarding school that led his parents to behave that way.

Marshall was seven when he attended his first sweat lodge. He joined the military, and after 20 years of alcohol abuse came back to the Elders because of a vision out in the ocean of his grandmother’s face. Now, at 56 years old, Marshall has learned the Medicine Teachings and is returning to the culture as his way forward. “We now have doorways to the future,” he says. “We are stuck in our past and we don’t know how to bring stuff out. But there is a spirit world and our Ancestor’s footprints are in the sand. We cannot change the past but we can change the future.”

Arlene Austin is a community member who graduated from Chemawa Indian School in Oregon. She liked the school. She grew up in an alcoholic, violent home with no spirituality, but she began to find spirituality at Chemawa, she says. Ms. Austin says there is so much silence about discussing the historic times. She says that the Mental Health and IHS (Indian Health Services) are not equipped to handle intergenerational trauma. She also states that forgiveness is for us Indians to do––not for the white people. She wonders about the graves and the children that died at the schools. “Did anyone cry for them, did their families know about their deaths, was there a ceremony?” she wonders. Arlene thanked us for undertaking the journey and for talking about healing. She says, “Healing is starting to happen. It is courageous to forgive.”

The open sharing during the Stewart Indian School visit is the way to begin to tell the truth about the lie. The lie is that as Indian people we inherently have all the problems that we have. The truth is that we have a background of historic and intergenerational trauma––that’s where the problems come from. The truth is that healing is not only possible, but is actually starting to happen, as Arlene Austin said.


St. Stephens High School
Riverton, WY, May 21, 2009

Historic News and More Miracles in Wyoming

“When I was in grade school I was traumatized,” Jerome Oldman said in a letter read to the Forgiveness Journey gathering at Stephen’s Mission on the Wind River Reservation in east-central Wyoming. Jerome couldn’t be present that day, but his letter expresses some of what this Journey is about.

A view of the Mission in 1912

A view of the Mission in 1912

He goes on to say, “I was eight or nine years old. I and my friends and cousins would speak our Arapaho Language. When the teacher heard us, she got angry, so angry I remember her face getting real red. She’d tell us we couldn’t speak our language, and she’d make us stand in front of the class and pull our hair and ears. Or she’d make us hold out our hands and get a paddle and swat our hands real hard after about ten times. The last time did it. I made up my mind not to speak Arapaho no more,” he remembers.

Elder Burton Hutchinson

Elder Burton Hutchinson speaks at the Journey gathering in Wyoming

But Jerome’s letter ends by expressing that kind of resilience which is being heard more and more now. “Today I now teach little children our Arapaho Language,” he continues. “I tell them you’re Arapahoe––be proud of who you are. Speak your language and don’t lose your identity.”

The intimate gathering of about 20 people was held at the Mission, which has been at the same location for 125 years. The boarding school experience on Wind River was one of mission schools and churches, not one of government or BIA schools. It was in 1884 that the Jesuit run St. Stephen’s Mission began to take shape. The history of St. Stephen’s parallels the history of the church run boarding schools. But now, as the priority of Indian wellbeing shifts to healing from boarding school trauma, the Journey learned some historic news during its visit.

The Eagle Drum group

The Eagle Drum group at the gathering. Marlin Farley, traveling with the Journey, is on the left

Father Dan from St. Stephen’s announced that the Jesuits plan to withdraw from St. Stephen’s by August 2010. The 125 year mission presence will end when the Diocese of Wyoming takes over operation of the church for Catholics on the eastern end of the reservation. An era of trauma is ending and one of healing begins. Reached afterward for his thoughts on this, Father Dan said, “I have mixed emotions that I’m a part of a Society (the Jesuits) that didn’t listen or respect the ways of the Indians and their spirituality. But happily we have turned around 180 degrees. During the last 20 or 30 years we’ve been trying to listen to the Indian people. I’m thankful for the spirit of the people. I’ve grown much in the last 17 years living with the Arapahoes and Shoshones.” Father Dan also told us that he signed the online petition for Apology for Abuses at US Indian Schools at www.whitebison.org. “I think that needs to be done over and over again,” he said.

A view inside St. Stephen's mission church.

A view inside St. Stephen's mission church

The Journey visit began when four students from St. Stephens High School carried the Hoop in Grand Entry. Theron Spoonhunter carried the Wellbrierty Forgiveness Staff and Tianna Redman brought in the red silhouette of Brandi Jo. The Eagle Drum Group, with Marlin Spoonhunter, Burnett Whiteplume, and Eugene Ridgley III sang an entry song for the occasion. Theron Spoonhunter did the honors and MC’d the event.

Tianna Redman’s story is yet another miracle we are honored to share on the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness. We first met Tianna at a White Bison Wellbriety conference in Denver a few years ago. At that time she needed a kidney transplant and the conference paused to participate in a moving healing ceremony for this beautiful young lady. Now, over two years later, she is thriving after the transplant and an inspiration to all. Please send prayers and good wishes for Tianna’s continued recovery.

Tianna Redman (L) and Don Coyhis

Tianna Redman (L) and Don Coyhis at the gathering

Kathie Bowker spoke to the gathering in a heart felt way. Ms. Bowker has been the principal of St. Stephen’s high school for seven years. Kathie’s Indian name is Iron Bird Woman. She attended St. Joseph’s school in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in the early 1960s. She was six years old when she entered. She told the gathering that she remembers being whipped on the first day of boarding school for something she did not do. Kathie spent two years at the school and then her parents came and got her. She did not understand why her parents left her brothers and sisters behind and took her out of the school. Maybe they knew the others could survive it.

“People think boarding schools were a long, long time ago,” she said. “But they weren’t. It wasn’t that long ago.” The memories of the boarding school are very close. She doesn’t have any good memories. She remembers they had to take their underwear off to sleep, and the girls didn’t like to do it. The matrons or nuns would come in and pull the covers off. If they were wearing their underwear, they would be beaten. “Everything we have been told here today in the presentations is true,” she reflects. Ms. Bowker has learned to accept. But thinking about it brings back anger towards the churches.

St. Stephen's High School  students prepare to carry the Hoop.

St. Stephen's High School students prepare to carry the Hoop. Marlin Farley is at the center

Kathie has some healing through ceremony. She has gone back to her Lakota culture. She attends sweat lodge (Inipi) and has experienced recovery through Al-Anon. She teaches her children and grandchildren the way of the Lakota. She has a doctorate degree today, but that isn’t who she is. She is a mother, a grandmother, and a strong American Indian woman. Ms. Bowker revealed that she was retiring as principal of St. Stephens High School just the very next day. We send prayers for her next part of life and for her own healing journey.

Next, an Elder spoke of the 125-year Mission anniversary celebration that took place the day before, as well as the announcement that the Jesuits are leaving. She said not all were bad memories for her and that the mission did help and is still helping our people. She believes that everything happens for a reason. Having this 125-year celebration one day, and the Hoop journey arriving the next day is maybe the Creator’s way of saying we have to heal, she reflects. We have to forgive those people, she says. “What they did, maybe they thought it was right for them to do what they did,” she went on.

There is a reason the Hoop is here and that they are leaving us, she continued. They can no longer send us priests or Jesuits to be here. They’re leaving us and maybe in that way our people can begin to forgive. It’s time. Maybe the priests won’t understand where I am coming from. It’s time for them to move on so that WE can move on. It is time for the people to return to our spiritual beliefs and for the Jesuits to leave so we can move on from here, she concludes.

Every ending is also a new beginning. May Creator grant all of us the courage, strength, heart and love to step into the next part of our lives in a good way.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team


Fort Hall Indian Boarding School
Fort Hall, Idaho, May 19, 2009

Sho-Ban Wellbriety Day At Fort Hall

The Sacred Hoop completed a long, 15 year cycle of its own when it was carried in Grand Entry to start off Sho-Ban Wellbriety Day at Ft. Hall on May 19, 2009. What began in 1995 and 1996 in the Ft. Hall community as a White Bison community change program, was now an idea whose time had come. For it was back in 1996 that the then-new Sacred Hoop helped facilitate the Ft. Hall healing program known as the Healing Rains.

Fort Hall

Historic photo of the Ft. Hall boarding school, 1880-1936

Reflecting on the long road from 1995 to 2009, Laverne Beech, coordinator for today’s event, the tribe’s public affairs manager, and an original member of Healing Rains thought for a minute. Then she said, “It’s taken 15 years for the seeds to take hold and to sprout. To me, the event that occurred here this week was the sprouting of those seeds that were planted by the original Healing Rains group.”

Laverne Beech opens the Ft. Hall Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness gathering

Laverene opened the gathering of about 230 people of all ages with a slide show depicting historic boarding school photographs from all around the country. For many of the students taking part, the day would be an eye and mind-opening experience. Many young people had not heard about the boarding school experience. Some expressed anger that they had been kept in the dark as the many presentations began to turn on the light.

One of the photos in the show revealed that there was a boarding school in Ft. Hall that went back ten years before the start of the government boarding school era that began in 1879. The 1870 boarding school at Ft. Hall was a result of the Ft. Bridger Treaty of 1868 promising the tribe educational support. The amazing thing about this 1870 school was that parents sent their children willingly. Education was still a positive experience before the government’s assimilation policy of 1879 made it turn brutal.

Sho-Ban Wellbriety Day boasted good support from Tribal Government, both to make it happen and during the event. Ft. Hall business council member Lee Juan Tyler stressed the importance of passing on history’s knowledge and lessons to the youth. Anthony Broncho, Secretary of the Ft. Hall business Council, and colleague Adam Hill, treasurer, were also present. Tribal leaders granted administrative leave for tribal employees who wanted to attend. The gaming operation contributed some funding. Their attitude was, whatever our community can do to promote healing, they are in support of, according to Ms. Beech.

Darwin Whitstone speaks at the Ft. Hall gathering

Darwin Whitstone of Ft. Hall Counseling and Family Services spoke about his own experiences as a boarding school survivor. Originally from Saskatchewan, he made a bridge between the residential school experience in Canada and the American boarding schools. During Darwin’s time in the residential school he recalls being separated from his sister. They were eating in the dining hall and were unable to speak with one another. If they did speak to each other they were beaten. Darwin went on to do extensive research on historical trauma. The title of his research project for college was titled, “Why we are the way we are.”

“Why we are the way we are” is what a Dine (Navajo) video called Hozhonahaslii: Stories of Healing the Soul Wound is all about. Hozhonahaslii means Everything will come back together in harmony. To return to Hozhonahaslii, it is so important to know what happened. We can let it go when the horror of historic trauma finally has no more power over us because individual and community healing work has been done. This video was shown during the morning at Ft. Hall and is an intergenerational trauma healing resource all should see.

Don Coyhis (L) accepts a pair of Jim Thorpe's trousers from Don Roth

When the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness visited Ft. Hall they received an unexpected gift. Don Roth, a counselor with the tribe’s Four Directions Treatment Center gifted the Journey’s Don Coyhis with a pair of football trousers that once belonged to Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was a much-loved world-class football player and athlete who attended Carlisle Indian School in the early part of the 20th Century. Don and the Journey were asked to carry the pants back to the site of the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the last site visit on the Journey. This is a small miracle so early in the Journey and a sacred task that will be carried out.

The day moved on and the Creator seemed to have a slightly different agenda than the planners of the event. Isn’t this the way it often is in individual or community healing? By late afternoon it was time to make the half-mile trek from Sho-Ban school to the original 1880 boarding school site. It was time to offer prayers and tobacco for the little spirits still there, as well as for healing in the Ft. Hall community, and success for the rest of the Journey.

The 1880 boarding school site is now made up of some old buildings and a water tower. Prayers were offered and songs were sung. Elder Snookins Honena offered tobacco into the Hoop. Elder Alene Menta sang a traditional healing song. Joleen Felix-Cooke and Francia Gonzelez of the Lummi Nation, who were also at the Chemawa event, also sang. Later, Laverne remarked that the Sho-Ban school students were respectful, prayerful and involved in offering tobacco. It was like the young people knew the importance and value of what was happening, she said. They really got it.

Jolene Felix-Cooke and Francia Gonzelez sang both in Chemawa and at Ft. Hall

The high point of a special day like this is always different for different people. We asked Laverne Beech how it was for her. She said, “One of the most defining moments of the day was after we had talked about the boarding school experience one of the non-Indian teachers went in front of the group and apologized to her students for what happened at the boarding schools. She said she was sorry her ancestors had done this. She asked for forgiveness. The students clapped and cheered. It had a really healing effect just her saying that.”

Don Coyhis also reflected on the day at Ft. Hall. “It was a re-awakening experience,” he said. ”I think they had a wakening when the Hoop first came years ago in the 1990’s. There were a lot of silent tears today. People were quietly shedding tears, including young people. At Ft. Hall, we were able to talk about the untalkable. When we have secrets, nobody says anything. Now it is going to be OK to say it.”

––Forgiveness Journey Team


Warm Springs Agency Boarding School
Warm Springs, OR, May 17, 2009

The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Visits Warm Springs

The Warm Springs Indian Reservation lies about a 170 mile drive east of Chemawa Indian School, across the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon. This approximately 640,000 acre Indian Nation is home to people of the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Northern Paiute Tribes. The Wellbriety Forgiveness Journey came to town on a warm and sunny Sunday in May to help raise awareness about the issues of historical and intergenerational trauma. In the course of the day some 50 to 75 participants would hear the message that we can begin to talk about and heal from our boarding school histories.

One view of the Warm Springs Tribal Museum

The event was held in the Warm Springs Elementary School. The day began with a Grand Entry of the Sacred Hoop and the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff. Jameson Mitchell (Vietnam Veteran), Larson Kalama (Vietnam Veteran), Marcia Minthorn and Minnie Wallulatum carried in the Sacred Healing Hoop and Harvey Jim (Vietnam Veteran) carried in the Wellbriety Forgiveness Eagle Feather Staff. The Eagle Thunder Drum with lead singer Greg Arquette and his group of Brothers sang the Grand Entry Honor Songs. The Drum Group is learning, and is part of the Seven Drum Washat Religion. Our Washat Leaders were banished by the government and from our land as part of removing us from our religion after the 1855 Treaty. The Washat religion has a Native spiritual connection with the Warm Springs Nation and our Tribe is working hard to re-establish and save Washat and our language from extinction.

Evaline Patt, archivist for the Warm Springs Tribal Museum, stands with her photo collection during the Journey event at Warms Springs

After the opening ceremony, Tribal Chairman Ron Suppah welcomed White Bison and those present. Evaline Patt, archivist of the Warm Springs Tribal Musuem spoke about an exhibit of historic boarding school photos on display. Dawn Smith, principal of Warm Springs Elementary School also welcomed the White Bison Journey for Forgiveness.

The photos encompassed three different boarding schools of the region. Forest Grove Indian School opened first, then the school moved to Salem, Oregon, and Chemawa Indian School was established on the west side of the mountains. On the east was the Warm Springs Indian School in Warm Springs, Oregon. All three schools were established right at the beginning of the boarding school era–approximately 1880. The earliest photograph on display was of the Warm Springs School, taken before any buildings were constructed and only tents were set up. Ms. Patt said some of her research was done and collected from a Mr. Dan Macy collection, who had many stories and photographs to share. Mr. Macy is now deceased but he shared recorded stories with the museum, as well as many glass negatives that he had acquired over the years. The early photos refer to the students as “new recruits.” The photos show children dressed in stiff military uniforms in the late 1800’s and in ordinary clothing of the mainstream by the 1950s.

A participant shares her experiences during the Warm Springs event

At noon we all shared in a Memorial Feast in honor of our Warm Springs ancestors who were forced to attend boarding schools in the early years. Before the feast, Don Coyhis told the story of the Forgiveness Journey as well as presenting the story of White Bison and the Wellbriety Movement. The Memorial Feast was followed by a panel discussion in which Jameson Mitchell, Eliza Jim, Adeline Miller, Daisy Ike and Marcia Minthorn spoke. First Delvis Heath, Chief of the Warm Springs Tribe spoke, sharing his boarding school experience, which he said was not traumatic, but a learning experience for him. Jameson Mitchell spoke about himself as a young child being brutally beaten by one of the male employees numerous times. He said forgiveness is hard to do, but he is working on this issue today. Marcia Minthorn spoke about the need for the three tribes represented at Warm Springs to heal among themselves. She talked about the need for healing all the way around for the whole community and for all Indian Nations to heal. Eliza Jim also spoke, saying she attended the Warm Springs School in 1953 and that she did learn a lot. She learned discipline, cleaning and sewing skills. She shared that everyone’s hair was sheared off and they were deloused when they arrived at school. The chemical burned her head awhile afterwards. She felt abandoned by her parents. She said she knows of the sexual assaults and the girls getting chased around in the kitchen by the cook. But no one was allowed to talk about it.

Before the closing ceremony we took time to have a Ceremonial-Memorial walk around the boarding school grounds. Guy Wallulatum was coordinator for the Warm Springs event and is a Counselor in the Warm Springs Community Counseling Center. He describes what happened and his feelings during the walk.

A photo from the early 1880's taken before the Warm Springs boarding school was built

“We did a ceremonial parade around the grounds in front of the girl’s dorm, the cafeteria, the old IHS Health Clinic, the boy’s dorm and back to the school gymnasium,” he said. “We acknowledged and memorialized all our children and ancestors who attended boarding school here. People will tell you that there are spirits here in these buildings yet. They are what I call good spirits, but distressed spirits of boarding school students looking for a path home. Hopefully, we lit a path for them back to the Creator. That’s how we honored our ancestors today,” he said.

He continued, “When we went by and recognized the old Indian Health Services Clinic, I was remembering, I was born there. I heard stories of tonsils being cut out of children for nothing. The government doctors were experimenting with new medicines on us. People are in denial of all this yet. They are not going to admit that any of this happened. During the walk we sang four different songs from our Washat Religion. We’re having a hard time keeping our Washat going. We are losing our language. Few people speak our language fluently. After the Treaty signing, our Longhouse Leaders were banished from the reservation by the government to remove us from our Religion. The boarding schools did the rest, separating the children from their parents and elders. We are learning bits and pieces. It’s a hard process in this fast moving world to sit down and try to learn.”

As a counselor, Guy relates with the grief issues of the community in his work. He said that we have held community grief workshops to help the community work on their grief. One was held this past Wednesday a few days before the Wellbriety Forgiveness Journey event took place. He said the violence, suicides and recent deaths of family members that people are working on are probably tied to historical trauma in the long run.

What are his feelings about the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness event in Warm Springs today? “The people who needed to be here, were here,” he said. “A lot of people I think, felt their own personal relief to let some of their resentments go. There was a release of some of that anger and anguish for their own healing. If we raised an awareness, that’s probably all we can do. People read about it, saw the posters, and some came. People actually had to be here to know what, forgiveness for boarding schools journey was about.”


The Journey Begins at Chemawa
Salem, OR, May 16, 2009

Salem, OR, May 16, 2009

It was a nice beautiful warm day for the start of the Welbriety Forgiveness Journey at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon. About 80 to 100 people attended, including a Circle of Wellbriety group from the nearby community of Eugene, Oregon. Theda New Breast carried in the Eagle staff, which was gifted to White Bison last year. We call that the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff. There were three people from the Wellbriety Council of Elders present––Horace Axtell, Theda Newbreast, and Ozzie Williamson.

Three Generations at Chemawa: L to R, participant Maria Killsnight, daughter Kiarra Killsnight, and Don Coyhis, founder and president of White Bison, Inc

Theda spoke of standing up as a people and being majestic. She said that Grand Entry is the only time you will be blessed by that many eagle feathers. She said you grow when you cry and that we will never forget the little bodies who were in the boarding schools. We must acknowledge, stand up and be Native, she said. We need to dress like our ancestors and not like our oppressors. We need to show up with a clean heart––sober and with a spiritual effort.

Opening Ceremony at Chemawa Indian School. Theda Newbreast is at the left with the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff, and Elder Horace Axtell is at the podium

Horace did the opening prayer. He spoke of joining the Wellbriety Movement and what that meant to him and what it still means. Horace told a story about how his father had left when he was born and he didn’t know why. Later in life he went up to his father and tried to speak with his father but he didn’t get acknowledged. Many years later he went and found his father because no one else would take care of him––he was ailing, getting old and drinking a lot. Horace found his father and made him an offer. He told his father that he would forgive him for not being a father if he came to live with him. His father said he would, but only if Horace would buy him a case of beer! It was an example that FORGIVENESS MEANS A LOT.

Jolene Felix Cooke spoke of her experience with forgiving the unforgiveable. She sang a beautiful song and the spirit moved through the crowd.

An Elder named Rosie spoke of her experiences at Chemawa. Rosie remembers riding a very long ways. She remembers not being able to go home because her parents were alcoholic. Her mother later died and she grew very angry. She never wet the bed until she got to the school. She recalls five matrons standing in line paddling her for wetting the bed. Rosie grew up with a lot of hatred, anger and fear. She then turned it onto her own children. She said it has only been since she learned to forgive through Christ that she has learned to love her kids. Rosie stated, “If you don’t forgive, it will make you sick.” She had a difficult time understanding the trauma. She shared with us that she had the inability to forgive due to lack of love.

Rick, Rosie’s son, spoke of significant things that happen in a person life. He spoke of his birth story. He spoke of almost not being his mother’s son. Rosie was sixteen years old when she had Ricky. Due to her trauma from the boarding school, she felt incapable of parenting. Rosie kept Ricky but he grew up confused without the understanding of the trauma his mother endured. The relationship Rosie had with her children is beginning to mend now that they have an understanding of the trauma. Ricky said that, “There is a power in forgiveness, but it doesn’t happen until you do it.”

John is a man who works at Chemawa. He shared with us that there were about 97 incidents last year of violence or substance-related issues as opposed to nearly 400 in previous years. John said, “Good things take place here now. The children here are not throwaway kids.” He said he is doing the best damn job he can because the children are our future.

Wellbriety Elder Ozzie Williamson speaks to the gathering at the Chemawa Indian School

There were approximately five staff members in the audience for the event. I believe there was a beginning for a lot of people to understand the historical trauma that the boarding schools had on our people.

After the closing ceremony of the day long presentation, we all gathered at the Chemawa cemetery for a memorial. It is unknown if the children had a proper burial. The children were not returned to their parents to be blessed by them. It is very sad to think of all of those children in that cemetery who were unable to return home to their parents and relatives.

Horace Axtell, our White Bison spiritual Elder, did the closing ceremony at the cemetery. Quite a few people attended the ceremony. The ceremony began as we walked along the outside of the cemetery and up through the center to what seemed to be the largest tree on the grounds. There were words spoken, songs sung, and prayers sent out. Our intent was to bring the spirits of those little innocent children home.

––Maria LaFriniere
Traveling with the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness

The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness Gets Underway!

The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness started its long journey eastward at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon on May 17th, 2009. It was a warm sunny day––a good omen. The day began with the ceremonial entry of the Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff and the Sacred 100 Eagle Feather Hoop. Elders, men and women, veterans and young people all helped in this most sacred of ceremonies. Theda New Breast, one of the healers carrying the Forgiveness staff, became very emotional. She felt all around her the spirits of those who had been here before as the Hoop was brought into the gymnasium. The Wellbriety Forgiveness Staff she carried was given to White Bison at their annual conference held in Minneapolis last year.

Elder Horace Axtell and Don Coyhis at the Chemawa Event

Opening remarks were by the staff of Chemawa Indian School. There had been a graduation for 56 students the day before. All the staff who spoke had attended Chemawa and they spoke fondly about what the school meant to them. One of the staff described a vision she had when she was at the cemetery and saw a hoop overlooking the graves. She knew this event taking place today was meant to happen and that she would be part of the Journey.

The drum sang several songs and there was a small child present who was only eight weeks old who had been crying. But she stopped as soon as the drum began. Such is the peaceful calm that the heartbeat of our nation brings. The drum group was from the Lummi Tribe and they had driven down to participate in this event.

After some brief introductions, Don Coyhis, founder and president of White Bison Inc., gave an overview of the previous Hoop journeys and laid the foundation for this Journey, which was to focus on Forgiveness. There are four gifts that the Hoop brings to the people. They are Hope, Unity, Healing, and the Power to Forgive the Unforgivable. While the focus of this cross-country event is on the legacy of the boarding school experience, historical trauma as it has impacted Native Americans in a larger context is the overall theme of this Journey.

Don stated that our people had endured much but that we are very resilient people who have stood the test of time. Epidemics, the oppression of the government, racism, various abuses, both emotional and physical, religious intolerance, the loss of our land and the loss of our culture–especially the language–were all cited as some of the examples of what our people have suffered.

Horace Axtell, one of our most respected Elders who has been involved in all the Hoop journeys since 1999, talked about forgiveness from his own experience with his father. He described how he wanted to have a better relationship with his father who was an active alcoholic. His father had left him at an early age and he had limited contact with him. He went to his father and said that he would forgive him if his father let him take care of him for the rest of his life. His dad said yes and he took him home. His father continued to stray and Horace would have to go find him and bring him back home. Then one day, Horace came home and his father was all dressed up and wanted to go to church. Horace took him there and waited outside for him. His father finally came out and said he had a religious experience. He stopped drinking that day and Horace never had to go looking for him again. Horace said we have to learn how to forgive the unforgivable––and part of that involves acceptance.

Entry of the Memorial group into the Chemawa Cemetery

In the afternoon, participants had an opportunity to share their experiences about how the boarding school syndrome had impacted their lives. Some had never attended boarding school but their parents and grandmothers had. They were still affected in many ways, such as being the target of indirect anger, a lack of intimacy with others, and an inability to express their feelings. The don’t trust, don’t feel and don’t share your secrets with others threesome were also cited as some of the learned oppression.

A mother, her sister, and her son came up from northern California to share how intergenerational trauma had been passed down in their family. This journey was an awakening for them. The son was committed to having his mother and his aunt present for the start of the healing journey. They touched the spirit of all of us who were there, as did all who shared that afternoon. The mother had attended Chemawa and she shared how it had been a very painful experience for her. She described how it had affected her relationship with her son.

The closing ceremony allowed everyone there to take some tobacco and to pray around the Hoop. Don instructed people to ask for the courage to forgive the unforgivable in their lives. The Lummi drum group sang songs during this very moving part. Afterwards, people took pictures and exchanged contact information. New friends were made and old acquaintances reconnected. After this we went to the cemetery.

Elders and others at the Memorial Ceremony at the Chemawa Indian School cemetery

The cemetery for the school is located several miles from the current school, very close to Interstate 5. The graves were marked but there are no headstones. The ages of those buried in these graves range from six to eighteen. Some go back to the 1890’s. During the 1890’s, fifty per-cent of the children sent to boarding schools died in the first year.

There are some very large trees within the cemetery providing shade. The drum group sang some songs. Prayers were given for those who were there, as well as for others who had endured great hardships at Chemawa and at other boarding schools. At the end, Don spoke about how the thoughts and prayers of all who attended will be carried on each leg of the journey and on to the end of the Hoop Journey in Washington, D.C. He said that this would be a transformative healing experience for all of Indian country.

One of the goals of the Journey is to ask the United States government to apologize for the boarding school trauma that the U.S. government inflicted upon our people. Those present felt very confident this would occur. Several participants stated during the day that we, as a people, will never become who the Creator wants us to be until we learn how to forgive the unforgivable.

Mitakuye Oyasin (For all our relations)

––Willie Wolf