MISSION, SD – Rosalie Quick Bear is one of dozens of Native Americans who showed up Saturday to share testimony about her time in federal Indian boarding schools.
Bear Quick shared the story of being locked in a basement with a classmate at St. Francis Indian Mission School in St. Francis, South Dakota for “a few days” because the boarding school staff had forgotten about him.
“We couldn’t talk, we couldn’t see, our eyeballs were swollen, our noses were swollen, our throats were swollen,” Quick Bear told the audience. “We couldn’t talk anymore, we were crying. And we couldn’t breathe because my throat hurt in the basement.”
She was just one of those who shared personal stories of physical, emotional and psychological abuse while attending boarding school. Others on hand shared stories of family members or ancestors and how it affected them.
The event was coordinated by Secretary of the Interior Deb Holland and her office. Holland is the first Native American cabinet secretary in American history.
Holland, a native of New Mexico and member of the Pueblo tribe from Laguna, told the audience that she is a descendant of “boarding school survivors.”
“The federal Indian Boarding School policy has affected every Native people I know. Some are survivors, some are descendants, but we all carry the trauma of that time in our hearts. My ancestors lived through the horrors of the Indian boarding school appropriation policy that “This is the first time in history that a United States cabinet secretary has come to the table with this shared trauma.”
In addition to officials from the Department of the Interior and a number of other federal agencies, representatives from the offices of Representative Dusty Johnson and Senator John Thune, several tribal politicians and a number of South Dakota state legislators were also present.
State Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) said, “This is a truly historic day to have Secretary Holland here in our country.” “I would encourage the rest of the legislature and all future administrations to learn about these events and attend one if possible. This cruelty to children happened right here in South Dakota, not too long ago.”
The spotted eagle who helps them testified how the students were punished for “bad behavior”.
“We had these things called ‘belt lines’ that were for you if you did something bad… Or at least the nuns in the boarding school were considered bad. There are two sides of the line, so you have to cross that belt line, and both sides will beat you as much as they can. ” Who helps them said that many people use seat belts despite being told not to.
As Congress considers its options for responding to the abuses at boarding schools that have come to light in recent years, Holland’s office argues that the first step toward healing is for survivors to share their stories.
For many, it is the first time they have spoken about the abuse they have experienced.
“As we mourn what we have lost, please know that we still have much to gain,” Holland said. “The cure that can help our communities cannot happen overnight, but it will happen. This is one step among many that we are taking to strengthen and rebuild the ties within Indigenous communities that the Federal Indian Boarding School policy is designed to break.
The stop was Holland’s third tour on The Road to Healing, with more planned across the country in the coming months.
Copyright 2022 KSFY. All rights reserved.