Virtual Event Raises Awareness About Boarding School Survivors and Native Adoptees

Virtual Event Raises Awareness About Boarding School Survivors and Native Adoptees

Carmelita Smith (top left) shows off her orange shirt during the opening of the Tribe’s annual Orange Shirt Day event on Sept. 30. The event was held virtually to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Others on the panel included Carolyn DeFord (bottom left) and Shawna Hood.

By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

About 70 people attended the Puyallup Tribe’s virtual event for Orange Shirt Day and screening of “Blood Memory” on Sept. 30.

“This day was started by our Canadian relatives to bring forth the truth about the nearly one-third of Native children who were taken to residential schools,” said Carmelita Smith, a Forensic Interviewer and Outreach Specialist with the Children of the River Child Advocacy Center. “The thought being to ‘kill the Indian to save the man’ many atrocities occurred. The trauma that these children experienced, if they made it home, effected the whole community and its following generations. There are high rates of PTSD, anxiety, depression, child abuse, substance use, domestic violence, sex trafficking and exploitation, and MMIW that can all be correlated with those children being ripped from their families, their culture and their communities.”

During the boarding school and adoption era, 25-35 percent of Native American youth were removed from Tribal communities. “Blood Memory” is a documentary that features interviews of boarding school survivors and Native adoptees. It also looks at the use of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

After the film screening, Puyallup Tribal Elder and former Chairwoman Ramona Bennett spoke at the virtual event. She talked about her work in securing the national Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and her mother’s boarding school experience.

“My mom was dragged off to boarding school at that young age, and she experienced all of the things that were discussed in that film,” Bennett said. “And she said that they say Indians are stoic, but if there was a stump, a great big stump, there would be an Indian on it, telling a story, singing a song, doing a dance. Indians weren’t stoic, they beat us stoic. They made us be stoic.”

The virtual event was organized by the Child Advocacy Center with support from Smith, Laura Bluehorse-Swift, Shawna Hood, Donna Torres, Keya Drechsel and Carolyn DeFord.

Laura Bluehorse-Swift expresses gratitude during a virtual blanket wrapping for the event’s keynote speaker: Puyallup Tribal Elder and former Chairwoman Ramona Bennett.
Carmelita Smith (center) holds a drum, and Laura Bluehorse-Swift (left) draws a ticket during the raffle portion of the Tribe’s virtual Orange Shirt Day event.