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Humans of the U: Kiyanna Porter

“When my grandmother was six, she was legally taken away from her family and her home on the Navajo reservation and taken to a residential school. The only personal belongings she could take were three shirts, three pairs of pants, and two skirts. She and the rest of the kids her age slept in a large room with beds lined up in a row. They would be forced to wake up early and the guards would take them outside and make them run laps for their exercise. They would be inspected to make sure their hair and fingernails were up to regulation. The only way they could keep their long hair—which is a very big deal in our culture—was if they braided it.

One of my grandma’s memories in particular sticks with me: the night guards would come in and play pranks on the children, and it really scared her. Another elder in my community told me the kids would never want to go alone anywhere at night. There were times when someone would go out alone and wouldn’t come back.

I think I can speak for all Indigenous students here that our elders were scarred by their boarding school experiences. Some Indigenous cultures don’t like to bring back the past because of how hurtful it was. But I feel we have to talk about the boarding school programs because not a lot of people know it happened, so I organized an Orange Shirt Day at the U on September 30 to raise awareness. The Orange Shirt Day movement recognizes First Nations and American Indian/Alaska Native boarding school survivors in Canada and the United States.

We rarely ever talk about Indigenous issues in the U.S. and even in Canada, and it has come to the point where they are largely forgotten. But it was only 44 years ago that a law was passed in the U.S., the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), to protect against the widespread removal of Native children from their families and Tribes. And now ICWA is under threat. This month, the Supreme Court is hearing a case that challenges the law. I want people to know these issues are still relevant. They still affect us to this day.”

–Kiyanna Porter (Diné), 2022-23 University of Utah American Indian Woman Scholar