Ana Henry (Cherokee Nation) pouring seeds. Photo courtesy of Cole Davis, Fort Lewis College, from the Old Fort Farmer-in-Training program.
Acknowledgments & Introduction
𐓷𐓟𐓷𐓣𐓩𐓘͘ to the many incredible people who offered their stories, strength, and counsel to me and the students as we created this project. 𐓷𐓟𐓷𐓣𐓩𐓘͘ to my loved ones and friends for your blessings, prayers, and snack deliveries. 𐓵𐓘𐓧𐓣͘ to the Fort Lewis College administration who have fearlessly transformed institutional conversations and priorities. Through acknowledgment of the institution’s dark past, they have honored the previous, current, and future Native students at Fort Lewis College. They have been building a strong foundation for healing, and continue to demonstrate their commitment to community wellbeing. 𐓷𐓟𐓷𐓣𐓩𐓘͘ for giving me the amazing opportunity to create this project, for trusting and believing in me, and for leading the way.
This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous funding from national and local organizations and individuals: Alice and Eric Foultz and The Women & Girls of Color Fund from the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, who showed me remarkable kindness and friendship, as well as The Andy Warhol Foundation, and The Ballantine Family Fund.
Finally, 𐓷𐓟𐓷𐓣𐓩𐓘͘ to the Center of Southwest Studies staff, especially Liz Quinn MacMillan, who provided me with extraordinary mentorship over four years in exhibition development and community engagement, guided me through many tough conversations, inspired me to talk about my identity, gave me vital encouragement, and maintained confidence in my work. I could not have done any of it without your knowledge, involvement, and affirmation.
The As Seeds, We Grow: Student Reflections on Resilience exhibition was displayed at the Center of Southwest Studies. It began as a way to continue the reconciliation process on campus, initiated by administration, regarding Fort Lewis College’s history as one of two former federal Indian boarding schools in the state of Colorado.
I was asked by the College President Tom Stritikus to create an exhibition with students about intergenerational trauma related to boarding schools. At first, I felt honored to be called on and valued as a leader on campus. That quickly turned to uncertainty, as I recognized that it is not possible to represent all Native students and to speak to all boarding school experiences. Beyond that, I recognized that asking students to join in a conversation about traumatic events for their families would be a heavy burden on all of us. This would be an extremely serious task for any community, requiring years of research and ample community consultation. As one person, I was given seven months, and I did my best to lead this project.
The first person I talked to was my dad, who said I was being handed the torch. He said, there have been many generations of people behind me leading up to this moment, and I was simply in the right place at the right time. I had to do the exhibition and do it well. I then talked with my uncle, who explained his family’s experiences in boarding school as Osage people. He explained that it was seen as beneficial to have that education, and talked about the Osage Reign of Terror, a story I have heard hundreds of times of our relatives who were murdered for their oil headright money. That’s what happened to us during that time. He said, be very thoughtful, because for some Native people, their relationship to boarding school is very different, it’s complex and can be painful. Talking with these men in my family helped me realize that I had enough emotional strength within me to guide my peers through this process and to focus on the future when our cousins and next generations will come to school here. I am also incredibly grateful for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, who graciously share resources and virtual gatherings that were my beacon early on.
I moved forward to form a student-led project that utilized the Center of Southwest Studies exhibition space, collections, and resources. By focusing on fostering dialogue around identity and our relationships with cultural assimilation and other issues that are deeply intertwined with the boarding school era, there was a clear path where I could offer a platform for Indigenous students and students of color to respond to public reconciliation efforts on the Fort Lewis College campus. I encouraged that we all talk to our families through the process.
I met with students one-on-one and felt the pressure of the exhibition build. I kept reminding myself that in listening to their stories and being honest about my lived experiences, we were building trust and collective strength. That’s when Shenay, one of the first students to be involved, told me, I don’t want this exhibit to be trauma-porn, I want to heal. Another student, Kaitlyn, talked about the power of compassion for oneself and others when it comes to familial grief, and I thought about the generations of students that will be coming to Fort Lewis in the future. It became critical to show the current community in Durango and the surrounding region that Native people are here, despite this history, and that those involved in this project were most interested in celebrating our incredible resilience.
My main intention for the exhibition was to be as inclusive as possible, so I tried to make sure that everyone on campus knew they had the option to participate. I knew that the exhibition would have the most impact if people of all backgrounds and ages experienced the exhibit as a space of reflection and healing as they learned about these students’ relationships with the boarding school era. I hoped when people left the exhibition, they would feel a sense of ease and possibly even joy to see that our work together, built on compassion, welcomes everyone to learn about these complex histories with an open heart.
This book shares many elements of the physical exhibit, including: historical content as a contextual backdrop, photos of student works and personal belongings alongside Center of Southwest Studies collections items, as well as the students’ personal stories, artistic statements, and explanations of their lived experiences.
— Elise Boulanger, Citizen of the Osage Nation
Curatorial Fellow at the Center of Southwest Studies