“I hope this continues annually, and it gets a little bigger and bigger,” – Claudia McHenry
OKMULGEE, Okla. – The Remembrance Walk held at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Complex is about honoring Indian board school survivors and their families. At this event citizens were able to bring pictures of their family members who had been affected by these boarding schools and take them on the walk. The event was held on the south side of the Mound Building on Sep. 29.
Former Miss Muscogee (Creek) Nation Claudia McHenry (Mvskoke) hosted the event. She started this project back in April of 2022 when she held the princess title. “It was just to honor those that had to go through the adversities of boarding school and I’ve always known that it wasn’t a pleasant experience for people,” McHenry said.
The event had an opening prayer with two guest speakers, Chebon Kernell and Brenda Golden.
Golden was recommended by Kernell. McHenry had seen her in the community and noticed her work with child advocacy. She thought Golden would give citizens a good perspective.
McHenry hoped that everyone who came to the event had a better perspective and awareness of the issues it recognized. She understands the horrific stories of the past from the boarding school era are not to be taken lightly, however modern boarding schools have changed their approach to instruction and have gained a more positive image.
The event featured posters about Indian boarding schools on the MCN reservation, and how advocates have brought awareness to the historical issue.
McHenry wants citizens to gain a sense of community, education and awareness. “We all have this commonality about it and we should work together to overcome that,” McHenry said. “Add more to the language and continue to take those resources that weren’t available to our ancestors.”
By hosting this event she wants others to want to learn more about these boarding schools and the trauma suffered by generations of Natives. “I also hope that it takes the initiative of some of our tribal leaders to search those grounds of where those schools used to be, just to make sure nobody is there,” McHenry said.
According to McHenry, through hosting it feels good to contribute a big part to the event. McHenry received calls from citizens asking what they could do to contribute to the event. She was glad to see the community listen, learn and tell their stories so that others are able to hear their perspective.
When McHenry thinks about the past of what the ancestors had to endure, she feels hurt for them. She has nieces of her own and can not imagine them in that position, to have their innocence stripped away by abuse. “It’s an awful feeling to just ever think that someone would ever do that,” McHenry said.
McHenry’s grandmother experienced abuse from the Eufaula Boarding School before it became the modern institution it is today. McHenry’s grandmother went through beatings by a ruler from instructors, conditioning her not to speak her language or exhibit her culture. As she began to start her own family as an adult she did not pass down the Mvskoke language to her children. That is, until she was much older.
“I guess that was the only time she felt safe enough to speak it, that’s all she spoke when she was passing away,” McHenry said. “So it really resonates with me because that makes me hurt for her and I couldn’t imagine.”
McHenry hopes to host this event annually, and wants to host it next year. She has expressed interest in bringing students from Riverside Indian School. She wants to give these students a voice to speak about their experience within that boarding school, and how it currently has a positive impact. She also would like to open the invitation to notable figures like filmmaker Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Mvskoke).
Last year’s Remembrance Walk’s theme was called “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” and featured three guest speakers. One speaker spoke about Indian Boarding Schools from the past, another spoke about the present and how it has taken an effect on the community. The last speaker spoke about what the future could look like in spite of the past and present. McHenry would like to continue that theme.
“I hope this continues annually, and it gets a little bigger and bigger,” McHenry said.
For more information about the Remembrance Walk, contact Claudia McHenry at 918-758-8683. She can also be contacted by email at email@example.com.