White Earth Nation Seeks to Build Back Cultural Archive

Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Jaime Arsenault is searching for documents and other artifacts that might provide closure for victims of boarding school assimilation programs. 

Feven Gerezgiher reports: 


Jaime Arsenault wears many hats as the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for White Earth Nation. One includes managing cultural archives, which often first requires finding them.


She says that’s because a lot of tribal information is held in different institutions around the country and around the world. Arsenault says it’s not uncommon for schools, museums and churches to either deny tribal access to archives or to simply not have organized archival collections.


A few years ago the historic preservation office began a collaboration with the College of Saint Benedict and the Saint Benedict’s monastery, which historically operated boarding schools – including one at White Earth. 


“We were able to locate many pictures and documents and reports, things that might help families get answers, have some sense of closure, have at least some more information for them to maybe ask that next set of questions,” said Arsenault. 


Last spring the Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict formally apologized for their role in the federal government’s assimilation policy. They are now working with Arsenault and a White Earth advisory committee towards truth finding and truth telling.


“I hear these stories about all that was lost, all that was disrupted, all that was taken, you know, whether it’s language, culture, land, family structures, wellness, self esteem,” said Arsenault. “It would be amazing to be able to have this work lead to something that builds those things back up.”


Arsenault says it is critical that Native Nations and survivors continue to inform the truth and reconciliation process every step of the way. As more people become involved, she hopes that this also results in an investment in the wellness and resilience of Indigenous communities nationwide.


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