Our guests on Morning Line today were retired Professor James Labelle Sr and Dr. Inez Larsen, talking about an intensive workshop happening September 7- 9th - intended to help boarding school survivors and their descendants begin or continue a healing journey.
Labelle, a boarding school survivor, says he did some research on the topic and found that there were more than 30 boarding schools in operation across Alaska, up until 1975. He says he was away from home as a child for 10 years, first at the Wrangell Institute, and then Mount Edgecumbe High School. Labelle recalls seeing other children, taken their families at age 5 through 8 years old, and put into the residential school. He says the assimilationist policy of the time was something that can get internalized by people who lived through being taken away from all they know, community, family and even the landscape, as a child.
Dr. Larsen says this is the 5th Gathering of Alaska Natives training here in Alaska, and it's based on a model she has seen successfully implemented all up the West Coast, particularly in California, since the it's original design in the early 1990's. She says the program has also worked in indigenous communities in New Zealand and Canada. Larsen says that as an Alaska Native with dual US/Canada citizenship, she's shared the invite for this particular session with her relations in the Kluane First Nation in Canada.
Labelle says the effect of boarding school trauma can last for generations, and it's important to recognize these things, and identify "This is why I feel the way I do." He says a dynamic panel of indigenous leaders from around the state will be involved, including Rosita Worl, Fred John from the Interior, as well as Yaari Walker and the plan is to have a traditional healer on hand as well. Larsen says this workshop is designed with clinical psychologists and therapists on hand to help deal with these things one-on-one, and to make sure there is follow-up care as well. "We've seen before when programs come and then disappear, and people feel like they've been abandoned again. We're not doing that."
Another appealing aspect to this model of support and healing, both Labelle and Larsen agree, is the ability to replicate the workshop. "We hope the participants end up then becoming the instructors, and that this will happen all across the state."