Prayers For Our Children

Shan Goshorn
approx 11.25” X 11.25” X 20.5”
Arches watercolor paper splints printed with archival inks, acrylic paint

This basket includes the first photo I saw at the National Anthropological Archives during my 2012 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, featuring children at the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School. The NAA staff pulled it for me knowing that I was interested in seeing images from boarding schools but I was not prepared for the imperial size or the content of this image. It was so exceedingly emotional for me to see the solemn brown faces, the shorn hair, the stiff military uniforms on these little children that I had to leave the room to compose myself. I’ve been thinking about this image ever since then, knowing that patience was critical and that I would eventually be shown the best way to include this photo in my work.

The goal of these boarding schools was to acculturate and “civilize” Indian children, thus stripping them of their native identity. The negative impact on indigenous culture has been devastating, resulting in the loss of language and tribal customs and resulting in behaviors formerly unheard of among tribes, including domestic abuse. This new violence in Indian Country has been directly linked to the lessons these children learned about authority and discipline as part of their boarding school education.

Included throughout the interior of the basket, and within the crosses of the exterior, are the names and tribes of the 10-12,000 children listed on the Carlisle student roster during its 40- year existence. The weaving pattern is a traditional Cherokee one called Cross-On-A-Hill. The white “stars” in the pattern do not, however, represent a Christian ideal for this basket. Instead they symbolize the sanctity of the children, reminiscent of bright points of light in their vast sea of sorrow.

Woven into the basket are prayers of healing and well being in the Navajo, Lakota, Kaw and Cherokee languages. Also included are the words to a Memorial Song; the translated meaning is “We remember your sacrifices. You will not be forgotten.” The enclosed shape is interpretive of a protective embrace, symbolically comforting these beautiful children