Alaskans plan to honor victims and survivors of Indian boarding schools

A mother and son hold up a sign for Orange Shirt Day in front of a former Bureau of Indian Affairs school on Douglas Island, on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Friday is a day of remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools in the U.S. and Canada, also known as Orange Shirt Day. The day of reconciliation was created by Phyllis Webstad, a boarding school survivor in British Columbia who had her favorite orange shirt taken away on the first day of school.

There were dozens of residential schools across Alaska. Generations of Alaska Native children were also taken from their homelands to attend boarding schools in other parts of the country. 

There are a number of events happening around the state to bring attention to the damage these schools did to Indigenous children, and to offer a way to honor victims and begin healing.

“Many people live here on Lingít Aani and don’t know the history of cultural genocide that has happened on this land, as well as the ways in which racism continues to impact families today,” Ati Nasiah said on Juneau Afternoon Tuesday. Nasiah works at AWARE – Juneau’s domestic violence and survivor support organization.

In Anchorage and Juneau, people will wear orange shirts and gather during morning commute times on Friday to wave at drivers and hold signs.

Nasiah said it’s a history that many Alaskans are completely unaware of. 

“Understanding what’s happened here and understanding that history allows for us to strive to tend well to the landscape that we live in,” she said. “And to each other in a way that encourages us to support things like native language revitalization.”

In the evening, there will be a formal apology prepared by the Alaska Quakers at Sayéik Gastineau School in Juneau – the site of the former Douglas Island Friends Mission School, which forcibly assimilated Lingít children.

In May of this year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland released the first report from an investigation into the problematic legacy of federal Indian boarding schools. 

The government of Canada released a similar report in 2015 after several years of investigation by its Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Jennifer Pemberton

Managing Editor, KTOO

I bring stories from the community into the KTOO newsroom so that all of our reporting matters. I want to hear my community’s struggles and its wins reflected in our coverage. Does our reporting reflect your experience in Juneau?

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