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A Message from WAHONE

WAHONE pays tribute to survivors of Indian Boarding Schools in Oregon and beyond

September 2023

WAHONE logoThe We Are Here Oregon Natives Employee (WAHONE) Resource Group has a vision where ODHS respects and honors our traditional values of the Native communities that exist in our state today. We are committed to strengthening and enhancing Tribal community relationships and cultural knowledge.

We would like to call your attention to upcoming observances that fulfill that vision. Later this month is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day. This international movement recognizes Tribal children and families who were impacted by the Federal Indian Boarding School policies of the last century. Due to the use of technology, such as ground penetrating radars. many unmarked graves of Tribal children have been confirmed. Even in Oregon, at the federally ran Chemawa Indian Boarding School, families and activists are still finding unmarked graves. The boarding school campaign endorsed by humanitarians of their days was “kill the Indian, save the man.” The forced assimilation created harm that the government or church officials would not admit until decades later. This lack of acknowledgment has been going on for over a hundred years even though many of our relatives shared these experiences and stories of great loss. Some Tribal families never saw their stolen children ever again and some of those children, didn’t know they were stolen until later into their adult lives.

Even with the bodies being recovered and finally returned to rest in our communities, people have denied these events. As these bodies are being recovered from the grounds of former boarding school sites, we acknowledge that these Tribal children were placed far away from their community, family, and traditional land. It is a stark reminder of the horrific events the government and religious institutions enacted against our communities.

Orange Shirt Day is September 30, 2023, WAHONE would like you to stand united with us on Friday September 29, 2023 and wear orange shirts. It is our way of honoring survivors of cultural genocide. Our hope is to see a government agency that serves Tribal children and families, recognize these events and honor the survivors. Yet, we cannot forget the role we played then and the one we play now in the process of assimilation.

The story of the orange shirt comes from a student who was forced to attend a boarding school. On the student’s first day, she wore an orange shirt as a symbol of pride because it was gifted by a relative specifically for her first day of school. At boarding school the shirt was forcibly removed, and she never saw it again.

As we grow our understanding of the impacts our combined histories and change our practice to respect all humans, we must understand how the replacement of cultural practices have damaged relationships both inside and outside of the communities we serve. We are hopeful that our agency will begin to recognize their own accountability as we build collaborations to support and restore what we have damaged. This is why you will see WAHONE members wearing orange on Friday September 29, 2023

This international movement has multiple names. Orange Shirt Day, National Day of Truth & Reconciliation, or National Day of Truth and Healing are just a few. But no matter the name, the intention is the same. We seek to acknowledge the true stories of our relatives and create a path to healing.

 Join Oregon's Orange Shirt Day activities