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Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness

News Stories from the Journey

St. Stephens High School
Riverton, WY, May 21, 2009

Historic News and More Miracles in Wyoming

A view of the Mission in 1912
A view of the Mission in 1912.

“When I was in grade school I was traumatized,” Jerome Oldman said in a letter read to the Forgiveness Journey gathering at Stephen’s Mission on the Wind River Reservation in east-central Wyoming. Jerome couldn’t be present that day, but his letter expresses some of what this Journey is about.

He goes on to say, “I was eight or nine years old. I and my friends and cousins would speak our Arapaho Language. When the teacher heard us, she got angry, so angry I remember her face getting real red. She’d tell us we couldn’t speak our language, and she’d make us stand in front of the class and pull our hair and ears. Or she’d make us hold out our hands and get a paddle and swat our hands real hard after about ten times. The last time did it. I made up my mind not to speak Arapaho no more,” he remembers.

Elder Burton Hutchinson
Elder Burton Hutchinson speaks at the Journey gathering in Wyoming.

But Jerome’s letter ends by expressing that kind of resilience which is being heard more and more now. “Today I now teach little children our Arapaho Language,” he continues. “I tell them you’re Arapahoe––be proud of who you are. Speak your language and don’t lose your identity.”

The intimate gathering of about 20 people was held at the Mission, which has been at the same location for 125 years. The boarding school experience on Wind River was one of mission schools and churches, not one of government or BIA schools. It was in 1884 that the Jesuit run St. Stephen’s Mission began to take shape. The history of St. Stephen’s parallels the history of the church run boarding schools. But now, as the priority of Indian wellbeing shifts to healing from boarding school trauma, the Journey learned some historic news during its visit.

The Eagle Drum group
The Eagle Drum group at the gathering. Marlin Farley, traveling with the Journey,
is on the left.

Father Dan from St. Stephen’s announced that the Jesuits plan to withdraw from St. Stephen’s by August 2010. The 125 year mission presence will end when the Diocese of Wyoming takes over operation of the church for Catholics on the eastern end of the reservation. An era of trauma is ending and one of healing begins. Reached afterward for his thoughts on this, Father Dan said, “I have mixed emotions that I’m a part of a Society (the Jesuits) that didn’t listen or respect the ways of the Indians and their spirituality. But happily we have turned around 180 degrees. During the last 20 or 30 years we’ve been trying to listen to the Indian people. I’m thankful for the spirit of the people. I’ve grown much in the last 17 years living with the Arapahoes and Shoshones.” Father Dan also told us that he signed the online petition for Apology for Abuses at US Indian Schools at www.whitebison.org. “I think that needs to be done over and over again,” he said.

A view inside St. Stephen's mission church.
A view inside St. Stephen's mission church.

The Journey visit began when four students from St. Stephens High School carried the Hoop in Grand Entry. Theron Spoonhunter carried the Wellbrierty Forgiveness Staff and Tianna Redman brought in the red silhouette of Brandi Jo. The Eagle Drum Group, with Marlin Spoonhunter, Burnett Whiteplume, and Eugene Ridgley III sang an entry song for the occasion. Theron Spoonhunter did the honors and MC’d the event.

Tianna Redman’s story is yet another miracle we are honored to share on the Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness. We first met Tianna at a White Bison Wellbriety conference in Denver a few years ago. At that time she needed a kidney transplant and the conference paused to participate in a moving healing ceremony for this beautiful young lady. Now, over two years later, she is thriving after the transplant and an inspiration to all. Please send prayers and good wishes for Tianna’s continued recovery.

Tianna Redman (L) and Don Coyhis
Tianna Redman (L) and Don Coyhis
at the gathering.

Kathie Bowker spoke to the gathering in a heart felt way. Ms. Bowker has been the principal of St. Stephen’s high school for seven years. Kathie’s Indian name is Iron Bird Woman. She attended St. Joseph’s school in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, in the early 1960s. She was six years old when she entered. She told the gathering that she remembers being whipped on the first day of boarding school for something she did not do. Kathie spent two years at the school and then her parents came and got her. She did not understand why her parents left her brothers and sisters behind and took her out of the school. Maybe they knew the others could survive it.

“People think boarding schools were a long, long time ago,” she said. “But they weren’t. It wasn’t that long ago.” The memories of the boarding school are very close. She doesn’t have any good memories. She remembers they had to take their underwear off to sleep, and the girls didn’t like to do it. The matrons or nuns would come in and pull the covers off. If they were wearing their underwear, they would be beaten. “Everything we have been told here today in the presentations is true,” she reflects. Ms. Bowker has learned to accept. But thinking about it brings back anger towards the churches.

St. Stephen's High School  students prepare to carry the Hoop.
St. Stephen's High School
students prepare to carry the Hoop.
Marlin Farley is at the center.

Kathie has some healing through ceremony. She has gone back to her Lakota culture. She attends sweat lodge (Inipi) and has experienced recovery through Al-Anon. She teaches her children and grandchildren the way of the Lakota. She has a doctorate degree today, but that isn’t who she is. She is a mother, a grandmother, and a strong American Indian woman. Ms. Bowker revealed that she was retiring as principal of St. Stephens High School just the very next day. We send prayers for her next part of life and for her own healing journey.

Next, an Elder spoke of the 125-year Mission anniversary celebration that took place the day before, as well as the announcement that the Jesuits are leaving. She said not all were bad memories for her and that the mission did help and is still helping our people. She believes that everything happens for a reason. Having this 125-year celebration one day, and the Hoop journey arriving the next day is maybe the Creator’s way of saying we have to heal, she reflects. We have to forgive those people, she says. “What they did, maybe they thought it was right for them to do what they did,” she went on.

There is a reason the Hoop is here and that they are leaving us, she continued. They can no longer send us priests or Jesuits to be here. They’re leaving us and maybe in that way our people can begin to forgive. It’s time. Maybe the priests won’t understand where I am coming from. It’s time for them to move on so that WE can move on. It is time for the people to return to our spiritual beliefs and for the Jesuits to leave so we can move on from here, she concludes.

Every ending is also a new beginning. May Creator grant all of us the courage, strength, heart and love to step into the next part of our lives in a good way.

~ Forgiveness Journey Team

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