Harbor Springs Native Americans Vigil for Orange Shirt Day

On Friday, people across North America recognized Truth and Reconciliation Day, otherwise known as Orange Shirt Day.

Orange Shirt Day raises awareness of the effects Indian boarding schools have had on Native American communities. Many Native American children were forced to attend boarding schools where the students were assimilated into their culture and even abused. These schools were located all over North America, including in Harbor Springs, which held the last residential school to close in 1987.

A group of Native Americans from Harbor Springs called Zagaswe’iwe, otherwise known as the Healing Council, met in the park across from the former Holy Childhood Indian Residential 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 to share stories and have a chance to heal.

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

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

“It’s important to organize an event because a lot of people are still alive,” said Kennedy. Orangeday2

Joyce Robertson Cody attended Harbor Springs boarding school from first through eighth grade. She says she was forced to have her hair cut, called insults and even forced to drink water from the toilet. She and her son Jonathon were at the Friday vigil to reflect and heal.

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

Her son Jonathon says the abuse and assimilation his mother suffered made it difficult to understand his culture. He says there’s still a lot about his culture he still doesn’t know, but says Orange Shirt Day gave him and his family a chance to heal and learn.

“I spoke and I cried and I healed. Just a little, but I healed. And every day I feel more and more healed,” says Joyce.

Nohemi M. Moore