The boarding schools have experienced two weeks of intensive building. Last week we received support from the Navajo Mountain Chapter House by having experienced construction hired for us to complete renovation efforts. As of right now, we have completely sealed the roof of the buildings, cleared out the insides from detritus and debris down to the sandstone, and completely power washed the buildings. The buildings are now ready for contracted labor, for electrical infrastructure, windows and some structural repairs for rotted logs. We were so grateful to receive a donation of the Chapter House’s backhoe, and I’m overjoyed to say that the grounds have been leveled, filled and cleared of dead tree and growth. The buildings have experienced a complete transformation from when we arrived three weeks ago.
Now that the building goals we set out to do have been met, we can once again focus on the heart and soul of the project; sharing stories, generating visibility, engaging the community and creating a game plan to move forward after the feedback we have received and what we have seen.
We have truly grown with this project already; through the extensive interviews with the community we have learned so much about the buildings and the personal experiences of the students, faculty and workers who lived the reality of the BIA school system.
Speaking personally, it has been painful to hear of the abuses that have happened. The stories of the physical abuse, of the forceful separation from families experienced as recently as the 1950’s my members of the community and by my family, led me to very dark places in my mind. It left me very depressed, to the point where I even considered leaving the buildings to be as they are, as monuments to the end of the BIA school era.
However, this project was originally conceived as a means to heal. Already, the act of people sharing the stories of their time here and by being listened to has started that healing process. The people in my community still want the buildings as a place of memory, of mourning and of educating the outside world about the nature of the BIA school era. At the same time the buildings can be a site for arts and culture, for education for that which was taken fro us: our language and our identity. With this in our hearts, we continue onwards, as artists, as people thinking now with our hearts and souls.
Within the next ten days we will organize a cultural workshop with a local crafts woman to take place inside the restored classroom buildings. We will also really think about the buildings as a memorial site while we do final touches on the breezeway and the grounds. Our documentary will also continue to get footage as we focus our efforts on the visibility of the social and economic issues faced.
I am so incredibly proud of both my team, who has given up so much of their personal time, to be away from their families and homes, and proud of my community who has been brave enough to talk about the good times and also the very hard times their experienced at the school. Vulnerability is a scary thing, so often its considered weakness. For me, it has been the greatest strength of this project. It gives me hope. Onwards!