Author: knerburn

The Boarding School Tragedy — What Do We Do Now?

I am writing this on my blog post,, with a feed to facebook. So if you are reading it on facebook, go to the blog page where we can gather and make comments as well as on facebook.

With your help, we have made amazing progress in raising awareness of the boarding school horrors. With luck we will get to Deb Haaland — good and influential people are assisting in the effort to get her a copy of The Wolf at Twilight. She doesn’t need it; her knowledge is deep, personal, and profound But that book can open the eyes and, with luck, the hearts, of people who previously have neither known nor cared about the tragedy of the boarding schools and the lingering effects on people and families today.

So now comes the next step — the step I don’t know how to make. What do we do to move the issue forward? More specifically, what do you Native readers want to see happen? This is where we non-Natives move back and become allies. Our job is to listen and help, and to use our White privilege and status to amplify your voices and turn the concern to action.

One of you readers — sadly, I can’t find the comment to give you credit — said, “When Native people raise an issue, it is a complaint. When White people raise that issue, it becomes a cause.” This needs to become a cause. But it needs to have a desired outcome. Awareness is great, and, if that’s all the comes of this, it is enough. But a specific purpose — a legislative goal or some specific action — focuses energy and becomes the tip of the spear. That’s what we should be seeking.

What would you Native readers like to see happen to help the healing? I can speak, I can write, but I can’t organize my way out of a paper bag. We need a common purpose to come out of this moment and this engagement of good people, and that means the Native voice must be heard and must articulate a specific goal.

What would you like to see happen around the issue of the boarding schools? For the grandparents, for the children, for the children yet unborn? For awareness but also for healing? We are all listening and ready to help.



The Silent Voices need to Speak: The Wolf at Twilight and the Invisible Shame of the Indian Boarding Schools

In the last several years there has been a real growth in racial awareness in America. The depth of the injustices and continuing quiet prejudices toward the Black and Asian communities are being revealed in ways much of us in White America have previously not fully recognized.

This is good, and long overdue. But, as usual, the Native American community is, for the most part, being left out of the equation.

America simply cannot face the fact that there is no appropriate redress of grievances for the truth that America stole the land on which our country has been built. There is nothing we can do to change that fact, and, being a people who believe in progress and optimism, we are constitutionally incapable of absorbing a tragedy of our historical making that cannot be made right. So we ignore it, claim that it is in the past, tell Native people that they must get over it, and otherwise marginalize it until it is as close as possible to invisible in our consciousness.

But lately, the discovery of the bodies of 215 children on the property of a British Columbia residential school has made a tiny blip on our radar. It was only after several years of working in Native America that I came to realize the dark truth of the boarding school/residential school experience all across our continent. There are children’s bodies everywhere.

Though the numbers are hard to pin down, there were at least 357 Indian boarding schools where more than 100,000 children had their lives shaped and, very often, their spirits broken and, in too many cases, their lives ended. It is easy to descend into a litany of the crimes committed and cruelties inflicted by these institutions, and it is true that in many cases the intentions of the institutions were good. But on the level of real experience, the desire of the father of the boarding school system, Richard Henry Pratt, to “kill the Indian to save the man,” too often resulted in killing the man (or woman) as well, at least spiritually if not physically.

The reason I am making this long post is that when I discovered the depth and reality of this experience and its impact on Native people, I resolved to write about it in a way that would bring it alive to readers. I did not want a litany of cruelties and injustices, I wanted to tell a story, in much the same way as Elie Wiesel told the story of the Holocaust in “Night.” And so I wrote, “The Wolf at Twilight:  An Indian Elder’s Journey through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows.” the story of Dan’s search for his little sister who got lost in the Indian boarding school system.

As you probably know, I do not do well at self promotion. It feels cheap and venal. But, as too many people have told me, if the goal of my books is to teach truths and tell stories that need to be heard, promoting them is not self-promotion, it is education.

And so I am asking you, my readers, to spread the word about The Wolf at Twilight. Blog, share, do whatever strange cyber things one does in this new world of social media to get this book known. The voices of the dead children and the wounded hearts and spirits deserve to be heard. The Wolf at Twilight was the best I could do to help those voices speak.