Actual words of American Indian boarding school founder, students brought to life in playRetired College of St. Scholastica American Indian Studies instructor Carl Gawboy has written a play about the American Indian boarding school experience.
By: Budgeteer News Staff, Duluth Budgeteer News
Retired College of St. Scholastica American Indian Studies instructor Carl Gawboy has written a play about the American Indian boarding school experience. It is based on his graduate study of the historical records of boarding schools for American Indians from the 1880s to the 1940s.
Called “The Great Hurt: Historical Accounts of American Indian Boarding Schools” the play has been performed at tribal and community colleges, theaters and the National Indian Child Welfare Conference. A frequent comment from audience members is, “I didn’t know that anything like that happened in America.”
The Twin Ports premier performance of the play took place in January at the College of St. Scholastica. An estimated 450 to 500 people attended the event.
Gawboy produced a dramatic reading from his research materials in order to bring the play to a wider audience. The readers’ theatre script comes from actual testimonies by Indians and staff of the boarding schools.
After writing the script for the play in 1972, Gawboy could not find anyone interested in helping to produce it. “The Great Hurt” sat in his desk drawer until he was asked recently if he had any material on the historical trauma that American Indians suffered in boarding schools. Audiences are now ready for his play.
Tad Johnson, an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Bois Forte Band, is head of the American Indian Studies Department at UMD. He saw the performance. He said, “I thought it was very moving and very powerful. It used actual words of Capt. Pratt, who founded Carlisle School, and the children. It was very stirring.” He said the use of actual photos “had a big impact on me and a lot of the people in the audience.” Johnson’s maternal grandparents attended boarding schools. “People lost parenting skills and lost their language,” he said. “I knew all that, but hearing the actual words was moving.”
The play is scheduled to be shown at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul on March 9.