Native American families in Western New York continue to feel the impact of Thomas Indian School and Mohawk Institute, also known as the Mush Hole, — Native American boarding schools where “savage-born” children were, in the words of Richard Henry Pratt, trained in “civilized language and habit”.
“Unseen Tears”, a documentary produced by Native American Community Services, features boarding school survivors, who talk openly about the tragic separation from their families, abuse, and a systematic assault on their language and culture:
“We had all our hair cut off, we were made bald,” – says Sally General, a Mohawk Institute survivor. “Kids on the reservation used to call us Mush Hole baldies.”
“When we used our language, they would wash our mouths with soap. They would throw us into a cold shower and beat us along the way,” notes Elliot Tallchief, who was sent to Thomas Indian School when he was five years old.
The documentary also highlights the efforts made in local communities to heal the wounds and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma resulting from the boarding school experience.