HESPERUS, Colo. — Sitting at the edge of a dry orchard with her head bowed, Ana Henry recalled her grandfather’s experience at an Indian Boarding School, and how his 12-year-old cousin hanged himself in a similar place just decades ago.
“It makes you think about what was going on—what they were subjected to—that would make a 12-year-old kid be that desperate,” she said. “And I think it's a little naïve to think that any other boarding schools were different, even the Old Fort.”
The “Old Fort” Henry refers to was once home to the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School, which was one of four Indian Boarding Schools in Colorado and one of hundreds across the United States and Canada.
As a student at Fort Lewis College and a member of the Cherokee Nation, this is a history that is present every day for her.
“The boarding school was a structural system that was designed to separate Native people from their culture and from their families,” she explained.
Also known as Indian Residential Schools, these institutions operated from the late 1870s through the mid-20th century. By 1926, over 80% of Native and Indigenous children were attending these boarding schools. The goal was assimilation, or cultural genocide. In many cases, these practices resulted in the deaths of children, a horror that is just now being addressed on a national scale.
Across the U.S., various steps are being taken to do that, although there is still a long way to go. Tribes in Montana recently announced their support of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the U.S. Act. It would establish a commission to investigate and document Indian Boarding School policies and then recommend practices for the federal government to acknowledge these atrocities and promote healing.
In October of this year, 20 college students and descendants of Indian Boarding school Survivors received $3,000 scholarships. Individual locations of other boarding schools, like in Genoa, Nebraska, are in the middle of reconciliation projects.
At Fort Lewis College, a council of campus and community advisors will be recommending a course of action to President Tom Stritikus to "better recognize the past, understand more fully how it’s lived today, and look to the future with more intention around these depictions."