Troubling Pasts Still Hurt Native Americans | News, Sports, Jobs

WATCH Photo Lafayette Williams, right, poses for a photo with Grace Perez de la Garza, who was on hand for her speech.

SILVER CREEK — Lafayette Williams called for a minute’s silence Tuesday night as he addressed a gathering of about 30 people at the Anderson-Lee Library. As a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, his heart was heavy when he spoke of a dark past that the United States and Canada struggle to deal with and come to terms with.

Williams began referring to a grisly May discovery. The remains of 215 Indigenous children have been found – some as young as 3 – in Kamloops, British Columbia, at a boarding school that was trying to force these people to assimilate. It was an ominous and cruel reminder to far too many Native Americans of what happened for nearly 300 years.

“It’s a cultural awareness thing,” he said. “We have to remember… to grow and learn and heal from this. I don’t know if it will ever happen. »

In the United States, between 1869 and the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were taken from their homes and families and placed in federally run boarding schools and churches, notes the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition in its report. website.

One of these boarding schools, the Thomas Indian School, was open until 1957 and located on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Irving.

Locally, the school districts of Silver Creek and Gowanda participated on September 30 in Orange Shirt Day, which recognizes the trauma that occurred decades ago at these complexes. “Indigenous children in the United States who were voluntarily or forcibly removed from their homes, families and communities during this time were taken to distant schools where they were punished for speaking their native languages, banned to act in a manner that could be seen as representing traditional or cultural practices, stripped of traditional clothing, hair and personal effects and behaviors reflecting their culture of origin”, the coalition’s website said.

For two important nations that stand for freedom, it is an embarrassing and tragic story that must never be forgotten. For Williams and other natives trying to come to terms with something as heinous as the deaths of young people in Canada in residential schools that were also maintained across the United States, it is an extraordinary feeling to look back. ‘to come up.

Williams’ comments came as part of the series at the library that highlights November as Native American Heritage Month. Christine Huff from the library said in introducing the speaker that the institution’s mission is to “promotes cross-cultural dialogue, research opportunities, and a greater appreciation of Native American leadership and innovation.”

Part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Senecas, known as the Guardians of the West Gate, are an important part of our regional economy. Their territories surround Chautauqua County to the north in Erie County and to the east in Cattaraugus County.

While noting another fairly recent story from Western New York, Williams touched on these elements:

¯ In 1924, Native Americans gained the right to vote and their lands were made sovereign. “(We) have no political relationship with the US government…but we try to cooperate with them,” he said.

¯ The Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River near Salamanca was built in 1965, displacing approximately 600 Seneca members and submerging 1,000 acres – one-third of the Seneca Nation’s territory.

¯ In 2015, there were three major events. Lancaster has changed the name of his school’s mascot from the Redskins to the Legends. Squaw Island was renamed Unity Island in Buffalo under Mayor Byron Brown, and Columbus Day was renamed Indigenous Peoples Day.

Williams also mentioned a special role he had as an actor in the documentary. “The War That Made America” which tells the story of the French and Indian War and its impact on the American Revolution. It was filmed near Latrobe, Pennsylvania and aired on the PBS network in 2006.

“When I was younger, I was always fascinated by the film industry… I always wanted to be on the big screen”, he said. “I just sort of followed that passion.”

Today, Williams is employed by New York Connects and assists people across the country with long-term service and support.

Next week, the Anderson-Lee Library continues its series with two more speakers. Tuesday at 6 p.m., Richie Sasala will talk about the history of the Thomas Indian School then Thursday, Terry Jones will present “Historical Trauma and the American Indian Residential School Experience.”

With pre-registration required, both events can be filled. However, these interviews can be viewed on the library’s Facebook page.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pennsylvania. Send your comments to [email protected] or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253

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Nohemi M. Moore