Members of the Onondaga Nation and supporters march to Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse to mourn and commemorate Native American children who were forced into residential religious schools. The protest took place July 31. | Mike Greenlar, The Stand

March remembers Native Americans forced into boarding schools

By Adrianna Adame

Last week, hundreds walked in solidarity for indigenous victims of residential boarding schools. Protesters marched from the Onondaga Nation Arena to downtown Syracuse’s Columbus Circle — nearly 6 miles. 

Speakers, including the eight organizers of the July 31 Every Child Matters: Walk for Justice for Our Ancestors, told stories about the horrors done by the Catholic-run schools to assimilate youth of native tribes. Virgil Brave Rock, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a boarding school survivor, was separated from his parents from ages of 6 to 15 while placed at a school based in Canada.

Youth approach a makeshift casket of orange flowers, with abandoned children’s shoes lined in front. | Mike Greenlar, The Stand

Indigenous children were sent away to assimilate. Brave Rock said the government and the Catholic Church tried to take the “Indian out of the little child.” At such  schools, children were made to feel ashamed and were punished for reflecting their culture.

A residential school survivor, at left, and a Catholic priest shake hands after the march. | Mike Greenlar, The Stand

“During those years, (if) we were caught speaking our language, we had to put industrial soaps into our mouths until our tongues blistered,” Brave Rock said. “If any other infraction occurred, we were punished by whippings. It’s not when or if you are going to get whipped — we knew it was coming.”

Organizer Awhenjiosta Myers wants the United States to show greater accountability, like Canada has. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly apologized to the indigenous peoples of Canada after the discovery of thousands of children’s bodies in June.

“They need to tell the truth of what actually happened,” Myers said, “and not try to cover it up.”

 Adrianna Adame is a graduate journalism student at the Newhouse School

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