In less than a week I will spend an afternoon at the UMM/ WCROC Horticultural Display Garden presenting "A Steady & Irresistible Wind." There will be singing, speaking, words and wind.
I was asked to create a site specific, place-based performance at UMM. But as I moved through my research process I felt my own narrative shift, focus. I am a Korean adoptee raised on Dakota land by 3rd generation Norwegian/Swedish immigrants. I returned to that land to care for my mother, bury her and put to rest the remnants of her life. I was advised, as a caregiver to take pains to remain the gardner, do not become the garden. I reminded myself of that advice again here.
In the last 4 months I learned about UMM's agricultural programs, sustainable farming research and renewable energy studies in wind and solar power. What I found among those I interviewed was not just an educational mission but a passionate and personal vow of stewardship to the land.
I continued my research at Briggs Library to find out more about UMM’s history as a Native American Boarding School. Sifting through archived remains, I gleaned only a notion of how life may have been here — daily tasks/classes marked by the striking of an hourly bell, progress the children made raising and selling crops, music lessons and subsequent concerts in the town below where instruments were allowed but singing not.
I took a walk in the garden. North and south winds, hushed by gigantic firs, would break loudly and abruptly as I neared the overlook. From there I could see the Pomme de Terre, Hwy 59, cows out to pasture, baseball fields and the UMM campus. Everything close enough to see a recognizable outline, but too far to see the details. I realized, from here the view I would have of the Indian Boarding School through time would be no more close to me in understanding than the physical space that lay between me and it.
I dug deeper into other boarding schools and reached out to my Dakota ally, Thomas LeBlanc for words and advice. I read documents outlining renaming policies, punitive measures for misbehavior, integration recommendations, the initiation process of admittance into the school. I reacted strongly. I recognized this story. This system of integration was evident in the remnants of my own adoption. Documents outlining how to best assimilate your new child, regular evaluations by social workers; a lock of my hair in a dated envelope, a document assigning my new name.
This is a drawing (right) by Lakota artist, Quentin Maldonado, Oglala Lakota who tells us, "Here is Lakota boy getting his braid cut off, being reformed, assimilation thru education, he is being chosen a Christian name."
Whatever methods for assimilation that were carried out here, while this may not have been where those methods originated and indeed not where they ceased, this was a place where they took hold.