Alaska Native community holds vigil in Fairbanks in memory of Indigenous children

Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 4:12 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Alaskan Native community members from around the Interior held a vigil in Fairbanks in memory of the 215 Indigenous children found in unmarked graves at a Canadian boarding school as well as victims across Alaska and the United States.

According to Natasha Singh, General Counsel for Tanana Chiefs Conference, the vigil was to commemorate those Indigenous children who lost their lives and endured significant trauma at the hands of not just the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada but also across the U.S.

“There’s unmarked graves across Alaska and the United States and I’m sure Canada, and we’ve always known this because literally our grandparents went to these boarding schools, saw their family members and Tribal members and friends that they met at the boarding schools die and [be] placed,” said Singh. “We all knew this, and it has been known. I just think the momentum in society today to bring attention and to bring justice to history has given this current discovery more attention, so I’m really grateful for that.”

The memorial was held on Sunday, June 14 and 215 orange bandanas were tied to the Centennial Bridge in Fairbanks to honor the memory of the victims. Those in attendance wore orange as well to show solidarity.

“The ceremony was opened in prayer, like we normally do in our Native gatherings. It was followed by remarks of the host Sasha Housley, then we had a Native leader Fred John talk about his experience at boarding school. I noticed Elders in the crowd that I know from the community also went to boarding schools, and that’s very powerful because our Elders who are able to tell their story today endured so much hardship and personal struggle in their healing journey. They’re really a testament, and also they provide that mentorship and that leadership needed for anyone who has endured trauma and that is struggling, that you can overcome trauma and cope in healthy ways,” said Singh.

Many Alaska Natives feel that the history of the boarding school era and the impact it had on Native communities and families should be taught in schools.

“I think to bring true justice to these 215 children and all children who were victims of boarding schools, we really need this history taught in our schools. We also need our languages taught in our schools, and we need Native culture taught in our schools. Only when the curriculum of the current school system reflects the accurate histories and really encourages the development of Native students’ Native Indigenous identity will we bring justice to the boarding school era,” said Singh.

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