Theresa Sheldon wore a skirt Thursday that represents the four generations she came from. It had four colored sections: orange for her great-grandmother, black for her grandmother, purple for her mom and light purple for her.
Although she didn’t talk about her story within the color of her skirt, the others had stories of abuse and trauma that connect to the United States’ boarding schools policy of the 1800s and early 1900s.
Sheldon, director of Public Policy and Advocacy at the American Boarding School Healing Coalition, spoke Thursday afternoon in Pullman as part of Washington State University’s Foley Institute Lecture Series, with more than 20 students and faculty in attendance. Sheldon is a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes of western Washington.
Sheldon talked about the intergenerational trauma Native Americans endured because of boarding school policies, including her own family’s experiences. She also advocates for passage of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, which has been introduced in the U.S. Congress.
“Interestingly enough, very early on in the 1800s, it was very organized, this level of assimilation, colonization, and they actually had a scale that would go from savage to civilized,” Sheldon said. “The levels of treatment varied — and by 1816, they had a road map of who deserved to be abused the most.”