Recreating a challenging past: the restoration of the Boys Dormitory in Lac du Flambeau Submitted: 02/01/2014
LAC DU FLAMBEAU - Painful memories tempt us to try and forget the past. In Lac du Flambeau, they're doing just the opposite. "We can't ever let anybody forget that this had happened to our people and that we had survived," says Melinda Young. "These are the schools that were designed to assimilate the Native Americans of this country into the American cultures," says Travis Maki.

A U.S. Government-run Boarding School took that mission to Lac du Flambeau from 1895 to 1932. "The ultimate goal was to completely eliminate native cultures altogether," Maki says. "You don't hear about this in textbooks. I lived in this community my entire life and did not know that this was a boarding school," Young says. But by the middle of this year, the boarding school story will be on full display. Young and Maki both work for the tribe's historic preservation initiative and are working on the boarding school project. Physically restoring what, for 27 years, was the Boys Dormitory at the school will help restore a part of the Lac du Flambeau tribe's history. "This hallway will mirror exactly what this building looked like in 1906. The ultimate design is to have that visual impact of what these students were coming into when they were brought to this school initially," Maki says, showing off the entrance to the Boys Dormitory. The Boarding School will be open for visitors to experience what native children did so many decades ago. It will also be the hub of the Ojibwe language and historic preservation programs. Many of the rooms will mirror what they looked like in the early 20th century. "We had an elder that had attended in the 1920s. We did a walkthrough with him, and he told us what each of these rooms was for," Maki says. Leaders hope a step back into the tribe's historic culture will provide another reason for people to visit Lac du Flambeau. "You have families coming. So it's providing an opportunity for families to do something in our community together," says Young. Painful as some of the memories may be, historic leaders are working to make sure they're told at the Boys Dormitory. "It's part of our history. We talk about World War I and Vietnam and everything else. This is a fact of our history. It cannot be forgotten," Young says. The Boys Dormitory should open to the public in June.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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