Cheers for a sad page from the past

Kanim White stood proudly on the stage and took a bow.

A boy not used to applause, Kanim clasped hands with other cast members of "The Rememberer." His face beamed with a broad smile. We in the seats of the Marysville-Pilchuck High School auditorium smiled back.

Bravo, well done.

Bravo to Anna Garrison, a Marysville-Pilchuck drama teacher who directed the true tale of American Indian children ripped from their homes at the turn of the century and sent to a government-run boarding school near Marysville.

The aim of the Tulalip Training School was to stamp out Indian language and culture in the young, while educating them in Christianity and Western ways.

A line in the play captured the brutal approach to assimilation: "In the words of our superintendent, kill the Indian to save the man," said the character of the history teacher, Mr. Conrad.

Lost to the students were their connections, traditions and languages of home. School life was one of uniforms, strict discipline and unfamiliar studies.

At a key moment in "The Rememberer," children were asked to read the Noah’s ark Bible story. "But there are no animals until after the great flood," one child said, sparking a revolt of sorts as others rose to tell creation stories of their ancestors.

Bravo to Roselle Fryberg, whose heartfelt portrayal of the young Squaxin Indian girl Joyce Simmons was the heart of "The Rememberer," and to Cherie Farris, who as the adult Joyce narrated the play.

Joyce Simmons Cheeka’s story "As My Sun Now Sets" is the basis for the play, which was performed in 1994 by the Seattle Children’s Theatre.

At Marysville-Pilchuck, where the play was performed Dec. 1 and 2 and this past Friday and Saturday, the story’s poignancy was heightened by its sad ties to the community. It happened. It happened here.

The cast was drawn from Marysville-Pilchuck, from the Heritage School on the Tulalip Reservation and from the community. Tribal member Ray Fryberg played Mud Bay Sam, Joyce’s grandfather and "the rememberer" of the play’s title, the one responsible for passing along his people’s stories.

"The school was right on Tulalip Bay," Fryberg said. "It was almost mandatory for tribal kids from all over Western Washington to attend."

"People have been thanking me for doing the play, even elderly people have been thanking us. It’s been received very well," Garrison added. "Some people were so unaware of this history."

Deserving double bravoes is Kanim White.

As Darin Longfeather in the play, the 15-year-old delivered a heartbreaking account of being beaten by white authorities.

When young Joyce asked why, he said, "You want to know what I did? I said my mother’s name at night in my sleep. They said no Indian names. I tried with all my heart to forget my mother’s name, but I said it again."

Kanim was near tears during the monologue. In his own life, he has reason to smile.

A student at the Heritage School, Kanim is also a resident of the Tulalip Tribes Transitional Youth Hope House.

"Kanim came to us several weeks ago; he came voluntarily," said Melinda Trujillo, a youth chemical dependency counselor with the Tulalip Tribes. "Apparently the message is getting out there, to come and get help."

The Transitional Youth Hope House serves tribal young people, ages 13 to 24, with a goal of reuniting them with their families and communities. Residents are required to attend school and to participate in either alcohol and/or drug prevention programs or treatment.

Spiritual and cultural ceremonies help youths identify with their heritage. Lushootseed, the language of the Tulalip peoples, is incorporated into the program.

I was touched that while the boarding school of long ago took away native culture, the Hope House works to give it back.

Kanim sat down with me backstage after his performance.

"I used drugs and alcohol. I had emotional problems. I was thinking of suicide. I guess I just needed help for it," he said. "Basically, I quit drinking, drugs and smoking cigarettes on my own. I knew it was killing me, slowly killing me."

The play was a new experience for Kanim.

"It makes me look at things differently. I got to meet new people, and it helped me open up more," he said.

He’s been bitten by the theater bug. He shared that his two brothers attended most of his shows, and added, "I think I’ll try to figure out how to get into more acting."

The scene in which his character talked of being beaten was "sometimes hard," Kanim said. "Emotionally, I’d get into that scene. Afterward, I’d keep thinking about it. At the first show, I actually started crying."

Then the slim, soft-spoken boy asked me, "Did it about make you cry?"

It did, Kanim, it did.

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