Viewpoint: Acknowledge the Indian boarding school era in Montana
Last week on the Montana State Senate floor, I presented SJ 6, a resolution to recognize the trauma inflicted by the U.S. Government in Indian Boarding Schools and to request a day of Remembrance for the children who died while attending these schools.
It was an honor to carry this bill. I come from a long line of people who attended Indian boarding schools. I attended one, my mother attended Cut Bank Creek Boarding School before me, my grandmother attended Holy Family Mission, and my great grandmother attended Fort Shaw Industrial Indian School. My great grandfathers attended Holy Family Mission and Fort Shaw as well.
The honor in carrying this bill, however, was combined with a deep sadness. There, on the Montana Senate floor, I was opening wounds and expressing the horror that we as Indian people have sought to suppress for generations.
I struggled applying the title of "survivor" to my own boarding school experience, whereas by the time I attended Cut Bank Creek Boarding School northeast of Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, child abuse laws in were in place.
We didn't have to endure what our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and great grandmothers and grandfathers had to endure. They were the true survivors. In the end, however, I am a survivor because they survived. I share their generational trauma, and I share their generational survival.
SJ 6 is an acknowledgement of the Montana Indian Boarding School experience for the past 150 years. It happened. As Montanans, we can no longer afford to sanitize the past, looking the other way while the ghosts of egregious injustice still haunt the corridors of our history. Until we acknowledge and sit with this pain, the trauma will continue to express itself through racism and ignorance, keeping injustice alive in new ways.
I want to thank my Senate colleagues for passing SJ 6. I have yet to understand why some of my Republican colleagues voted against it, but it is my hope and prayer that they will sit with it, contemplate this painful past, and see the importance of acknowledging it.
As with all trauma, the scar will always remain. But if and only if we acknowledge the pain, giving words and a name to the unspeakable, healing can finally come. With hope, I will keep looking forward to that day.
Susan Webber is a Montana State Senator and Senate Minority Whip from Browning