People clad in orange shirts dotted the crowd gathered at Sayéik: Gastineau Community School. They were joined by people dressed in the standard Juneau outfit of flannels and Xtratuf boots.
It didn’t matter what people wore, they were all there for the same reason: to learn more about the history of boarding schools for Alaska Natives and Native Americans and the lasting trauma that is still in the community because of them.
On Wednesday night an educational event was hosted by Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist, vice president of Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 Juneau, that was the first of three community gatherings organized by Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2 Juneau and in partnership with Haa Tóoch Lichéech and Juneau Montessori School to commemorate Orange Shirt Day which is on Friday.
Orange Shirt Day is a day dedicated to honoring survivors and families of the Indigenous boarding school system and commemorating the children who didn’t return home.
The first boarding school in Alaska was established in Sitka in 1878, according to the state archives, and many quickly began to appear across the state from then on. During the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s many Alaska Native children were sent away from their families, communities and culture to boarding schools in the state — or across country — and were forced to divorce themselves of their Indigenous identity in exchange for U.S. values and culture.
Though many of the boarding schools were closed by the late 1900s, the legacy of trauma and abuse from these schools still remains for many Alaska Native families and communities.
Hasselquist said she hopes the events this week will educate the Juneau community about Southeast Alaska’s ties to the United States Indian Residential Boarding School Institution era and the ongoing trauma that still lingers from it today.
More than 30 people attended the two-hour slideshow presentation in the gym of Sayéik: Gastineau Community School. The presentation, guided by Hasselquist, included breathing exercises before diving into the history and ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma caused by boarding schools throughout the U.S. as well as in Juneau and Douglas.
She outlined ways for people in the community to help heal the trauma left behind by raising awareness, creating space for truth and emphasizing “community healing.”
“We want to get education out there so it’s not erased,” she said. “If we could see every school in Juneau participating in Orange Shirt Day, and get it into education not only in Juneau but across the state — that is the ultimate goal.”
She said she’d like to see this topic taught more in K-12 education, and said “it’s already happening” in schools like Juneau Montessori School, whose executive director Laura Talpey spoke at the event, but would like to see it grown.
“So much of this trauma, so much of this history, it is all extremely interconnected,” said Hamma Schempf, a Juneau resident and volunteer researcher of the RBSI era who spoke at the event. “Everything from all levels of society was designed to take away all their rights.”
Know & Go
What: Orange Shirt day: Morning Wave at Mendenhall Wetlands, Evening Gathering at Sayeik: Gastineau School
Where: Mendenhall Wetlands, Sayéik: Gastineau Community School
When: Friday, Sept. 30. 6:45-7:45 a.m (morning wave), 5-7 p.m. (evening event)
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.