Orange Shirt Day brings awareness to the impact of Indian boarding schools on Alaska Natives

Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 5:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The corner of Minnesota Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard was filled with people wearing orange shirts and waving signs Friday morning in honor of Orange Shirt Day, also recognized as the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools.

“I’m here to raise awareness for Orange Shirt Day, particularly so that people in this country know that boarding schools happened, children were kidnapped from their families and forced to assimilate to American culture, which happened to be genocide,” said Murray Crookes, a participant at Orange Shirt Day.

The event was the first observance of Orange Shirt Day in Anchorage and at least the second in the state, following remembrance events in Southeast Alaska last year. During the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of Native American and Alaska Native children were stripped from their homes and brought to boarding schools.

By 1969, according to a report from the University of Alaska-Anchorage, at least 2,076 Alaska Native children were enrolled in a secondary boarding school. Many faced abuse, and some never returned home.

“We are also here to remember our ancestors, grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins who never returned home from boarding school,” said Tara Christiansen-Stiller, a participant at Orange Shirt Day.

It is a dark history that Christiansen-Stiller said has been left out of the history books and school. She had to learn about boarding schools and the impact they had on her ancestors through family members.

“I myself did not learn of my people’s history until I was an adult. I never learned it in any school I attended, not even college. I learned from my people,” Christiansen-Stiller said.

Still to this day, Christiansen-Stiller said, it is a horrific tale that continues to impact her community and they are still healing and working to reunite their lost loved ones.

“Historical trauma doesn’t mean it is history. It is still very alive today,” Christiansen-Stiller said.

Christiansen-Stiller said it is part of the healing process to be able to reunite the remains of deceased loved ones and moments like Friday, where she and others are advocating and helping educate others, that allows them to start the long, healing process.

“That’s how we are healing, by creating an awareness and through repatriation, bringing our ancestors, our family, our loved ones home,” Christiansen-Stiller said.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the first Orange Shirt Day events in Alaska were held in Southeast last year.