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Schmidt introduces legislation to raise awareness of Native American history

LANSING, Mich. — State Sen. Wayne Schmidt on Wednesday introduced legislation that seeks to raise awareness about the history of Indian boarding schools in Michigan and encourages the State Board of Education to include the material in statewide curriculum standards.

“As a survivor of the Holy Childhood Indian boarding school, and as ‘Anishinaabe Mukwa Dodem,’ on behalf of my family and community, I would like to emphasize the importance of this legislation to all the survivors,” said Benedict Hinmon, whose spirit name is “Kushmuncie” (Kingfisher) and who is an elder within the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians living in Petoskey. “The devastating effects of boarding schools cannot be erased or forgotten. Those of us who survived continue to rebuild our lives each and every day. Every child matters!”

The bill was introduced during “Mukwa Giizis,” the Bear Moon month. Bears represent medicine and healing in the Native American culture, and tribal stakeholders identified this as an appropriate month to move forward on this important issue.

“I am the last generation of my family to attend an Indian boarding school, which was located in Harbor Springs,” said Meridith Kennedy of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, living in Alanson.

“Ten years ago, I recovered the remains of my ancestors from the grounds of the same school my father and I went to — and more of my ancestors were found in 2020. For the families of Indian boarding school survivors, this is part of our modern history and shapes who we are. This legislation offers the opportunity for healing and making our great nations stronger by acknowledging the past and moving forward in a good way.”

Senate Bill 876 would encourage the State Board of Education to include the history regarding Indian boarding schools in the state’s recommended curriculum standards for eighth through 12th-grade students. Many schools in Michigan teach according to these standards. While these standards contain aspects of Native American history, proponents of the legislation say they are not strong enough.

“It is important to recognize the fact that Indian boarding schools did exist in our state — even as recent as the mid-1980s,” said Schmidt, R-Traverse City. “Working with tribal leaders, educators, and Indian boarding school survivors and their families, we introduced this legislation so we do not forget, nor repeat, this dark part of our state and nation’s history.”

Sen. Jeff Irwin, who is a member of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and the lead co-sponsor of the legislation, agreed and added that the treatment of Native American families and children should not be overlooked in the state’s history books.

“Michigan’s Indian boarding schools were created to destroy tribal culture and erase Native languages,” said Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. “Michigan’s dark history of violence against tribal communities should be taught in our schools, especially the story of Indian boarding schools. These schools forcibly removed children and trained them to reject and participate in the destruction of their own communities.”

SB 876 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness.

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Editor’s note: A print-quality version of the above photograph is available by either clicking on the image or visiting Schmidt’s website and clicking “Photos” under the “In the News” tab.

Photo caption: Sens. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, and Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, on Wednesday welcomed survivors of the Harbor Springs Holy Childhood Indian boarding school and their families to the Michigan Senate as the lawmakers introduced legislation to include lessons on Indian boarding schools in the state’s recommended curriculum standards.