Native Americans in Harbor Springs Hold Vigil for Orange Shirt Day

"We are coming for everything that our ancestors were denied, and that includes sharing our stories." Meredith Kennedy Miigwech Inc. Director

People across North America Friday were recognizing Truth and Reconciliation Day, otherwise known as Orange Shirt Day.

OrangedayOrange Shirt Day promotes awareness about the effects Indian Boarding Schools have had on Native American communities. Many Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools where students were assimilated from their culture and even abused. These schools were all across North America including in Harbor Springs, which held the last Indian Boarding School to be closed in 1987.

A group of Native Americans in Harbor Springs called Zagaswe’iwe, otherwise known as the healing council, gathered at the park across the street from the former Holy Childhood Indian Boarding School. They started Friday’s vigil with a healing ritual known as the Jingle Dress Dance and continued with a talking circle. Many former students were there sharing stories and getting a chance to heal.

The Director of a local nonprofit, Meredith Kennedy, says Friday’s vigil was a great way to bring awareness as she says many people don’t know boarding schools existed, let alone in their own community.

The nonprofit Kennedy started, Miigwech Inc., began last year and has already introduced and raised $750,000 for legislation on curriculum building in schools.

“It’s important to hold an event because many people are still alive,” Kennedy explains. Orangeday2

Joyce Robertson Cody attended the boarding school in Harbor Springs from first through eight grade. She says she was forced to get a haircut, was called slurs and was even forced to drink toilet water. Her and her son Jonathon were at Friday’s vigil to reflect and heal.

“I was a little kid, I look at my grandbabies and I wonder, how could someone do [that] to me when I was so precious,” Joyce asks.

Her son Jonathon says the abuse and assimilation that happened to his mother has made it difficult to understand his culture. He says there are still many things about his culture he still doesn’t know, but says Orange Shirt Day has given him and his family a chance to heal and learn.

“I talked and I cried and I healed. Just a little bit, but I healed. And every day I feel myself healing more and more,” Joyce says.