A class photo from the Sitka Industrial Training School ca.<tcxspan tcxhref="18971929" title="Call 1897-1929, via 3CX"> 1897-1929,</tcxspan> shows young Alaska Native women who were taken from their homes are raised in one of Alaska’s boarding schools. This week, the First Alaskans Institute is hosting a summit for survivors and others impacted by the boarding school system. (Courtesy photo / Alaska’s Digital Archives)

A class photo from the Sitka Industrial Training School ca. 1897-1929, shows young Alaska Native women who were taken from their homes are raised in one of Alaska’s boarding schools. This week, the First Alaskans Institute is hosting a summit for survivors and others impacted by the boarding school system. (Courtesy photo / Alaska’s Digital Archives)

Boarding school summit to address generational trauma

First Alaskans hosts multi-day forum for survivors to share their stories

Survivors of boarding schools for Indigenous people will have the chance to share their stories this week during the First Alaskans Institute’s virtual summit on the issue.

The goal of the summit is to provide survivors, their relatives, community members and others impacted by the boarding school system, said FAI President La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow.

“It’s a safe and very serious place for the truths to be shared by the people who have experienced the impacts and the ongoing impacts,” Medicine Crow said. “They will be listened to, they will be heard.”

Medicine Crow said the group was using the terms boarding or residential schools to broadly refer to the various institutions that took Indigenous children away from their families. The attempt to destroy Indigenous culture has had lasting generational impacts, Medicine Crow said, particularly in the loss of language and cultural practices.

According to the Alaska State Archives, the first boarding school in Alaska was founded by Presbyterian missionaries in Sitka in 1878. The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs was involved in the operation of boarding schools for over a century, according to the bureau. Many schools, including boarding schools in Southeast Alaska, operated well into the 20th century.

“Historic boarding schools for Alaska Natives were established by American newcomers (sometimes referred to as invaders or colonizers) to detribalize and assimilate Indigenous people into Euro-American culture,” according to the state.

[PFD formula proposals provoke strong public reaction]

The meetings were inspired by the discovery last year of hundreds of unmarked graves —mostly of Indigenous children — in Canada where similar programs were put in place. According to the Associated Press, the remains of 215 children were discovered at the former site of Canada’s largest boarding school in British Columbia in May 2021. A month later in June more than 600 unmarked graves were found at another former school site in British Columbia, AP reported.

“We’re seeing this unfolding on social media with no forum to talk about it,” Medicine Crow said.

The forum will not be open to the public, Medicine Crow said, as participants may share deeply personal and possibly traumatic details. The testimonies may eventually be made public, Medicine Crow said, but only after participants have reviewed and approved the video.

The purpose of the event was truth and healing, Medicine Crow said, referring to those who would be giving testimony as “truth providers.”

“We acknowledge that there are boarding school survivors still alive and with us,” Medicine Crow said. “There are the communities and the cultures and the language groups that were severely impacted.”

While not open to the general public, Medicine Crow said those interested in joining or providing assistance should email FAI at anpc@firstalaskans.org. The summit begins Monday evening but the bulk of the event takes place Tuesday through Thursday starting at 9 a.m.

Even though the summit is virtual, medical professionals Indigenous healers will be present to help participants that may have a strong emotional reaction. Last week, FAI held an online session helping to prepare participants emotionally for the summit.

“Doing this virtually is a challenge but also not having a forum is a challenge,” Medicine Crow said. “Talking about these things is one of the things that has not really happened yet. We’re living in the shrapnel of pain and trauma of what colonization has done.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

More in News

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Aurora forecast for the week of Feb. 26

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mauka Grunenberg looks at live oysters for sale on Aug. 29, 2022, at Sagaya City Market in Anchorage. The oysters came from a farm in Juneau. Oysters, blue mussels and sugar, bull and ribbon kelp are the main products of an Alaska mariculture industry that has expanded greatly in recent years. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Alaska’s mariculture industry expands, with big production increases in recent years, report says

While Alaska’s mariculture industry is small by global standards, production of farmed… Continue reading

U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola (center) walks with Alaska Rep. Will Stapp, R-Fairbanks, and Alaska Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, into the Alaska House of Representatives chambers ahead of her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Monday. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire)
Peltola celebrates federal intervention in Albertsons, Kroger merger in legislative address

Congresswoman says wins for Alaska’s fisheries and state’s economy occurring through collaboration.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, speaks in support of Senate concurrence on a version of an education bill passed by the Alaska House last week during a Senate floor discussion on Monday. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Senate concurs on House education bill, Dunleavy is skeptical

Dunleavy schedules press conference Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage to discuss the legislation.

A photo by Ben Huff being exhibited as part of his presentation at 6:30 p.m. at the Alaska State Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Museum)
Here’s what’s happening for First Friday in March

Both the state and city museums are celebrating 20 years of artistic… Continue reading

Goose Creek Correctional Center is seen in fall. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Department of Corrections)
Alaska prison failed to provide adequate dental care to inmates, state investigator finds

Goose Creek Correctional Center has gone years without a hygienist, forcing patients to wait

Jirdes Winther Baxter chats with Wayne Bertholl during her 100th birthday celebration Saturday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Jirdes Winther Baxter, last survivor of 1925 Nome serum run, celebrates 100th birthday in Juneau

Five generations of family, dozens of friends and a coalition of political leaders offer tributes.

The Safeway supermarket in Juneau, seen here Oct. 4, 2023, is among those in Alaska that might be sold if its parent company, Albertsons Companies Inc., merges with Kroger Co., the parent company of Fred Meyer. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
US sues to block merger of grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons, saying it could push prices higher

Eight states, not including Alaska, join lawsuit against parent companies of Fred Meyer and Safeway.

Most Read