Unexpected Gift

Shan Goshorn 
10” X 10” X 16.5” 

Arches watercolor paper splints printed with archival inks, acrylic paint 

Boarding schools are viewed by most Indian people as being a crushing detriment to Native culture, i.e. the removal of children from loving homes with instructions how to function in an alien society based on military models. But I see one very positive influence that I have never heard discussed, namely the relationships that were formed among the students as a result of being sequestered with other children experiencing the same sad circumstances. Students learned to rely on each other as surrogate siblings, many marriages were later made based on these childhood friendships, and the bond between tribes was cemented. Even today, reunions for Indian Boarding schools are well attended, with former students often traveling across the country for the opportunity to reconnect with lifelong friends. 

In this basket, I have included my grandmother’s personal recollection of attending boarding school, written in my hand from a video transcription my sister recorded many years ago (blue splints), along with my mother’s handwritten memoirs of her of Cherokee Boarding School experience (white splints). I am adopted by a 90-year-old Kiowa woman and she penned Indian names (legal pad yellow splints), many of which are the last names of friends she made from her many years at Chilocco and Haskell Indian Boarding Schools. I combined these documents with an image found in the National Anthropological Archives (Smithsonian) of children newly arrived at Carlisle Indian Boarding School; the red interior interlaces names from the student roster of this same institution. The handprints wrapping around the exterior are an ancient way of demonstrating ownership- I use them here to illustrate how these experiences belong to us as Indian people and how we are all connected. 

When I first met my Kiowa mother upon moving to Oklahoma, she recognized my family name and asked if I knew a Harley Saunooke as he was one of her good friends at Haskell in the 1930’s. I did not know this relative and after asking my mother (who was happy to tell me more of our family story that I obviously had missed), I learned he was not a close relative, more a distant cousin. But my Kiowa mother was so happy to learn of this link to her past that she immediately took me under her wing and our friendship grew quickly, eventually leading to her claiming me as her daughter. Now my Cherokee family is related to her Kiowa one. 

The pattern is a variation of a Cherokee one called Unbroken Friendship: I love how in this use, the pattern shifted on each corners to include a grouping of three crosses instead of one, as if embracing future offspring. 

Our love extends through generations. 

Collection of the artist