Alaska Native Heritage Center ‘Healing Event’ Commemorates Children Who Died in Residential Schools in Canada
Jim LaBelle Sr. “Aqpayuq” – “fast runner” in Inupiaq – was born in Fairbanks in April 1947. His father was white and his mother was from Kotzebue.
LaBelle said her mother was an alcoholic and had the option of giving her two boys up for adoption or sending them to residential school. She chose the latter because she could still see them in the summer.
LaBelle is a 10-year residential school survivor in Alaska. “Mighty over the helpless” is how LaBelle described it. “This has happened for generations.”
When he got out of school, LaBelle said, he knew “everything about the world. I did not know who I was as an Aboriginal person.
“I learned many years ago that the boarding school was a place to acculturate and assimilate us. As far as I am concerned, they did quite well: I no longer spoke my language. I couldn’t do traditional hunting, fishing and gathering. I have moved away from my family. I had a lot of anger.
In 2018, as a member of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, LaBelle visited a cemetery at a residential school in Carlisle, Pa., On the 100th anniversary of the school’s closure. LaBelle has learned that at least 14 Native Alaskan children were buried there.
“We are trying to help them find their descendants, to find their loved ones. We are trying to find a way to bring them home. We know that other residential schools in Lower 48 have buried Native Alaskan children there.