Healing Trauma Through Doll-Making

hands of woman sewing hair to the Waldorf doll, closeup

An Indigenous youth group has brought together different nations and generations to heal from the violent legacy of boarding schools. 

When 215 children were found buried on the lands of a former residential school in Canada last spring, local community members found their own histories uncovered.

Over the summer, members of Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli and Indigenous Roots in St Paul gathered to grieve and honor the found children – and the children that survived – through ceremony and sewing spirit medicine dolls. This week, their work culminates in Dia de los Muertos ceremonies and an exhibition.

Ruti Mejia says the project was started by members of her traditional dance group who needed a space for healing. She says it has become an opportunity for intertribal connection.

“We’ve historically been displaced and been dispersed to not collaborate with each other, and to some extent, sometimes put against each other,” explained Mejia. “But we really are intentionally disabling all of that, and dismantling that and really coming back to our ways of gathering, our ways of sharing, our ways of spending time with community, sharing a meal.” 

Elder Maria Morin McCoy is from the Bear Clan and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. She led the making of the spirit dolls as a way to give life to the uncovered children.

“Through working through the dolls, the spirits of the children began to talk to the doll makers,” said McCoy. “So many of the people that participated in making a doll had actual experiences, dreams, or just knowings as they were sewing the bodies together of what had happened to the children, and they began to tell them their story.”

McCoy said she and others involved with the project have been connecting with their loved ones who were directly impacted by boarding schools, finally opening up about difficult history.

The exhibit is open to the public at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center through November 30th.

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