A Thriving Culture

Last year, the US Department of the Interior announced the results of its investigation into the history of the federal Indian boarding schools. According to the report’s findings, from 1819 to 1969 some 408 schools were constructed across the country for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous children— against their will and that of their families. Christian Hart Nakarado, an architect and member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, has a direct connection to this legacy: his great-grandfather was taken to such a school. Can architecture be translated into “acts of reclamation and healing”? he wondered during his talk as part of Indigenous Architecture Days. (The event, organized by the Indigenous Society of Architecture, Planning & Design, was staged at Davies Toews’s studio in late October.)

For three years, Nakarado’s Slow Built Studio has been working with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan to plan a “living memorial” on the former grounds of a boarding school. A grant from the National Parks Service funded the schematic design, which aims to activate fifteen acres the tribal community was given by the state. Several dilapidated structures are sprinkled throughout the project area, but only three buildings will be renovated for occupancy. Nakarado and his collaborators are still mulling what to do with the former set. One idea: integrate them into in an Indigenous rewilding narrative, which runs counter to usual Western ideas of memorialization. In the meantime, the site is used for an annual Honoring, Healing, and Remembering event to commemorate “the children who passed through,” Nakarado said. “The process of healing is already underway.”