FARGO — Native American boarding schools are America’s “best kept secret,” and author Denise Lajimodiere has set out to reveal it.
In her new book, “Stringing Rosaries: The History, the Unforgivable, and the Healing of Northern Plains American Indian Boarding School Survivors,” she tells the stories of 16 Native American boarding school survivors.
“We need to start the truth-telling,” said Lajimodiere, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, a retired North Dakota State University professor and a poet.
The author presented her book, which was released in June, at the Fargo Library Thursday night, sharing snippets of the survivors’ stories of physical and sexual abuse inside boarding schools. The book took 12 years to complete, she said, as interviewing each survivor came with its own emotional toll. Some had never talked about their experience before. Some asked to remain anonymous.
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In total, Lajimodiere interviewed 30 people, aged 50 to 92. “They said to tell the world what happened to us. That became my goal,” she said.
Her book is broken into three parts: the background on boarding schools, the 16 survivor stories, and the story of her father’s healing experience. Her interest in boarding schools began with her father, she said. She sat down and interviewed him about what happened to him as a young boy in boarding school, and she finally understood him as an adult, she said.
The U.S. government adopted an Indian Boarding School Policy beginning in the mid-19th century to assimilate the Indigenous population, or as was said “kill the Indian, save the man.” Hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children across the country were taken from their homes and placed in boarding schools operated by the federal government and churches, according to the Minneapolis-based National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a group Lajimodiere helped to found.
Lajimodiere said she hopes the book is also used as an educational tool in schools to show the history of attempted cultural genocide. She added that she plans to continue gathering the stories of boarding school survivors.
"We need to never forget," she said. "I don't want anyone to ever forget what happened to our people."