Adelv unegv Waya, a 49-year-old Cherokee, was 20-something when a doctor said he was “retarded.” At Washington University’s highly rated Brown School of Social Welfare he uses another name, Dr. David Patterson. Once he was an alcoholic high school dropout, literally “processing sewer excrement” all day.
A recent New York Times report (May 12) described Patterson’s visit to Lawrence. The story describes his tears standing behind the city sewer lift station that partially conceals the Haskell Cemetery. He was participating in a ceremony honoring the children who did not survive their boarding school experience. “These are the children of the Holocaust for us,” he said.
The Times reporter, Alan Schwarz, had it exactly right, “Haskell’s history makes it as much shrine as school.” Haskell was the flagship of our nation’s ill-conceived experiment in education for cultural extinction. Most of its sister institutions have been erased from the landscape and local memory, buried beneath golf courses, shopping centers, highways and military installations.
Patterson’s path to sobriety and success was closely tied to native spirituality and learning to honor Mother Earth. That healing process embraced his Indian heritage. After lecturing at Haskell, the Times reported, Patterson visited nearby “sacred wetlands.” Many SLT proponents deny the significance of these wetlands to Native Americans, but they played a crucial role in a memorable history of resistance and survival.
The SLT will be a black mark on this community, as indelible as the theft of the Black Hills remains today throughout Indian Country.