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'Away From Home': Manitowoc library exhibition sheds light on Native American boarding school experiences

Posted at 12:18 AM, Aug 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-09 01:18:03-04

MANITOWOC, Wis. (NBC 26) — For Bobbi Webster, a member of the Oneida Nation, it's a story that needs to be told and retold.

"Both my parents were students in residential schools," she said. "They were sent to the school out of necessity to provide for the family. ... They had been so colonized and indoctrinated into thinking that was the way to go."

Now, an exhibition at the Manitowoc Public Library attempts to highlight part of that experience.

"This is, without a doubt, one of the darkest corners of American history," Marketing Associate Tim Gadzinski said.

It's called 'Away From Home.' Gadzinski says the five-year traveling exhibit takes a look at a U.S. Government initiative that began in the 1870s.

"[They thought] it would be best to forcibly assimilate Native American people into 'civilized' culture," he said. "They would take children from their homes, from their communities, and send them to boarding schools hundreds of miles away."

This is the exhibit's only stop in Wisconsin, but some of the people admiring the pieces of history say they wish it could go to every library across the country.

"This is an actual barber chair from one of the boarding schools," Gadzinski explained. "The first thing that happened was that they would swap out their clothes and cut their hair."

Nearly everything is an original artifact from the boarding schools.

"These are manacles for children," Gadzinski showed. "And it still stops me in my tracks every time that I go past this."

Webster visited the display herself.

"The longest untold story in the United States and Canada to date is the story of the indigenous people," she said.

But she says similar stories should be shared on a larger scale.

Still, Webster hopes 'Away From Home' is a move in the right direction.

"To begin with an exhibit, it's a baby step," she said. "It's minute, but it is a beginning."

The National Endowment for the Humanities on the Road exhibition runs through Aug. 11, and the library is open until 8 p.m.