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Stateside Podcast: The painful legacy of Michigan's Native boarding schools

A black and white photo shows a group of Native American children and boarding school staff in front of a white church. On the top it reads Holy Childhood Indian School and on the bottom is written Harbor Springs, Mich.
Eric Hemenway
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Holy Childhood Indian School in Harbor Springs was one of several schools in the state where Native children from Michigan and elsewhere were sent by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s recent report on Native American boarding schools underscores just how much generational damage the government has done to Native families in the name of America.

Michigan was home to several Native American boarding schools. The three best known were located in Baraga in the Upper Peninsula, Mount Pleasant, and Harbor Springs.

“If you think about the tragedy of a child being taken from a family, their family home and put in a boarding school never to return, it’s just devastating," said Levi Rickert, a citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

Rickert is also the publisher and editor of Native News Online and Tribal Business News.

Many of us now know that the Native young people who were forced to attend boarding schools had lasting scars from that experience. But the only people who can really grasp what it was like are the students themselves.

Fred Kiogima was one of them. He’s a retired Marine, and a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. He attended Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic boarding school in Harbor Springs during his formative years.

The school closed in the 1980s after about a century of operation. Kiogima has spent a great deal of his adult life coming to terms with what happened to him and other members of his family there.

"The close incidences of abuse you didn't really speak to your parents about because they were already hiding their demons because they came from the same place. So what you were trying to talk about, they were actually trying to suppress and so were your grandparents," he explained.

On today's episode, we talked to Rickert and Kiogima about how Native families and tribal communities have been grappling with the profound damage done to many young people who attended boarding schools—and the lasting effect that trauma had on families.

Looking for more conversations from Stateside? Right this way.

If you like what you hear on the pod, consider supporting our work.

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

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April Van Buren
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.