unhinged #59 from 'you don't have to say you love me'

'twenty years ago, i sat in a room with more than fifty indigenous men from all over north america as they, one by one, stood and testified about being raped by white priests, white teachers, white coaches, and white security guards and soldiers. these rapes happened in residential boarding schools all across the united states and canada. and they happened from the late nineteenth century into the late twentieth.

i had learned about the epidemic violence in indian boarding schools and i'd heard and read the countless stories of sexually abused women but i had never seen so many male victims gathered together.

one elder, over seventy years old, stood and said, 'we were beaten for speaking our tribal languages. we were beaten for landing and singing in traditional ways. we were beaten for resisting the beatings. sometimes, we would escape and run away. the white men would catch us and beat us for running away. they'd beat us for wanting to go home. they'd beat us for crying. so, more than anything, we learned not to cry. our tears were the only thing we could control. so not crying felt like we had won something.'

he said, 'sometimes white men would take you into private rooms and they would beat you. and you'd be happy to only get slapped and punched. because, sometimes, those white men would take you into those private rooms and rape you. sometimes, it was one white man. sometimes, it was more.'

the elder stopped speaking. he could not continue. he stood, without crying, and trembled.

i watched him.

that indian man, over seventy years old, trembled like a frightened boy - like the boy he used to be and the boy he remained, trapped in time by torture.

that trembling man - that trembling boy - stood in silence for many minutes. and we other indian men sat in silence and waited. we all knew collectively that we would silently wait for that man - that boy - to resume speaking or to remain silent or to sing or dance or to cry or to leave the room. we would have waited for hours. maybe for days. i think some of those indian men would have let themselves die while waiting in that room.

but that elder - that frozen child - smiled, placed his hand on his chest, and sat so he could listen to other indian me tell their stories. and those men told their stories for hours.

when people consider the meaning of genocide, they might only think of corpses being pushed into mass graves.

but a person can be genocided - can have every connection to his past severed - and live to be an old man whose rib cage is a haunted house built around his heart.

i know this because i once sat in a room and listened to dozens of indian men desperately try to speak louder than their howling, howling, howling, howling ghosts.'

- alexie sherman
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