TOPPENISH — Iylani Ike stood late Wednesday morning in front of parents, community members, Yakama Nation Tribal School teachers and classmates. She was nervous, but what she had to say was important.
After introducing herself in Ichiskíin – the language spoken by the Yakama people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho – she explained why she chose to organize the tribal school’s Every Child Matters Awareness Walk at Yakama Nation RV Park.
“I am the grandson of residential school survivors: my great-great-grandmother Walsah Lumley; my great-great-grandfather Hampton Lumley; my great-grandmother Hazel Lumley; my great-grandmother Daisy (Tal-Li-Wah) Ike and my grandfather Fredrick Laddie Ike Jr.,” Iylani said, referring to Native American boarding schools that sought to assimilate Native children into white society.
“And the reason I chose to do this as my senior project was because I want to raise awareness of our elders who have yet to be found and those who haven’t come home,” she added, ” and those who did return home but still suffer traumatic experiences.
Ilyani spent about two months organizing the march, which was preceded by a school assembly, and the subsequent rally at the RV park. This included coordinating with Yakama Nation Tribal Police and other law enforcement for escorting and closing intersections for the walk from school to the RV park; White Swan Ambulance Service, Yakama Nation Land Enterprise and the Yakama Nation Diabetes Program, who sponsored the T-shirts with Iylani’s artwork.
Several of her loved ones came from the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon to support Iylani as she led the events and spoke emotionally near the Land Enterprise building. Her aunts Louiza Umtuch and Julie Umtuch spoke and her mother, Felicia Ike, was present. Good friend Emma-Anne Oates, who worked with Iylani on the project, stood by her side as Iylani read the speech she had prepared.
Recent federal report
Iylani mentioned the thousands of unmarked and marked graves of indigenous children who died in the boarding schools they were forced to attend after being torn from their families and culture. A study of Native boarding schools by the US Department of the Interior released on May 11 identified deaths in the records of about 20 of the schools. This number is expected to increase significantly as research continues.
Over 400 Native boarding schools established or supported by the U.S. government were known to have operated across the country beginning in the early 19th century and continuing in some cases until the late 1960s.
They included one at Fort Simcoe, outside White Swan, which operated from 1860 to 1922 at the former US Army installation. Boys’ long hair was shorn and Yakama names conferred in religious ceremonies were dropped as students were baptized as Christians and given “proper” Christian and American names.
“At the time, the voice of our elders was not heard enough. So now I want to break down the barriers of historical trauma and make the elders proud of who you will become,” Iylani said, “and succeed now as we let the voices of our people be heard.”
The May Interior Department report also lists St. Joseph’s boarding school in North Yakima, which operated in 1888-1889, according to a report by the Yakama agency in 1889. This report also mentions that the boarding school was destroyed by a fire.
Many of the approximately 120 students, teachers and others who participated in the Iylani Awareness Walk wore orange in honor of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a survivor of a Canadian Indian residential school. His precious orange shirt was taken from him after he arrived at school in the 1970s.
“Every child matters! Every local counts! cried the participants. Many carried handmade posters, some with pictures of parents forced to attend boarding schools.
Ilyani teacher and counselor Dawn DePoe-Ike carried a poster with black-and-white photos of the Chemawa residential school in Oregon and parents who survived residential schools. They included her great-grandparents Marie and William DePoe and her great-great-grandmother, Mary Hauser, a survivor of the Sand Creek Massacre who attended Carlisle Indian School.
Hauser met and fell in love with Robert DePoe in Carlisle, DePoe-Ike said. The couple became teachers and established day schools on reservations to counter the devastating impact of government and church-run Indigenous boarding schools, she added.
DePoe-Ike was alongside Iylani, Oates and John Scabbyrobe, who drummed and sang before Iylani spoke. She and Iylani’s aunt Dawn Ike then congratulated Iylani as Iylani visited her loved ones.
“Iylani did all of this with her family,” DePoe-Ike said. “I’m so proud of her.”
Although she was nervous, Iylani was happy with her senior project. “I think it turned out really good,” she said.