La Madre Mariposa: For The Mothers on The National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools

La Madre Mariposa, an original digital painting
by Laura R. Morris (LRM 21)

I dedicate this digital painting to the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Boarding School Era Children. September 30th is recognized as ‘Orange Shirt Day’ to remember this national tragedy. I was drawn to colors of the Monarch Butterfly to represent the spirits of the lost children in the physical plane, but as I completed the painting, I discovered that hidden in the center was the shape of a woman with outstretched arms. Maybe you will see her too…

I honor the sorrow and the strength of the Childless Mothers and Grandmothers, those who were victims of the Boarding School Era and those who are still fighting for the custody of their children today. How have these brave people endured? My heartaches are just a drop in the ocean compared to what they have experienced. We can’t avert our eyes and ears from their stories.

Sometimes my work is heavy. Sometimes my work is a visual prayer. This theme is very dark, but I am hoping that you don’t avert your eyes if it makes you uncomfortable. This has been difficult for me to write, but it is something we must talk about.

Motherhood is sacred. It is a blood sacrifice in hope for the future. Some run toward this experience with open arms and some run away in fear, doing anything to avoid it. Both are valid responses, as the path of Motherhood is indescribably beautiful and incredibly dangerous for both Mother and Child. Even in this age of CRISPR, designer embryos, and IVF for those who can afford it, there are no guarantees the grand experiment won’t end in death. Even after the arrival of a healthy child, there are no guarantees of survival to adulthood. In the best of circumstances, Motherhood seems an equal balance of love and terror.

There are no right words to describe child loss. I endured multiple miscarriages before complications made it impossible for me to carry a child. I thought my grief would swallow me. It has taken me 15 years to climb out of the emotional wreckage and find my voice. Time heals and I’ve realized that my experience with Motherhood wasn’t the worst outcome. Not even close. While I was recovering from my losses, I read anything and everything I could about Women from all over the world and the experience of Motherhood. Learning to recognize others’ grief is what helped me learn to cope with mine and to become human again.

I recently learned about the Boarding school programs run jointly between religious institutions and the governments of the United States and Canada. These institutions conspired to take children from Indigenous families under the guise of charity, religion, and assimilation. These ‘Boarding Schools’ were little better than concentration camps, where the children were stripped of their families, language, and culture for years. Some never returned. This government and church-sanctioned human-trafficking was perpetrated over several generations from the late 1800s until the 1990s. Many indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families by the Government, then adopted into middle class and affluent white families, often never to find their way back.

To learn more, and to support the ongoing effort to identify and repatriate the remains of the lost boarding school children, please visit the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition here

We cannot heal as a Nation until the governments and religious institutions acknowledge their roles in human trafficking and abuses. We cannot stop these abuses from occurring unless we talk about them. We have to take care of the Mothers.

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