Intergenerational Trauma and it's Healing for Natives. An Article by Mary Annette Pember. non white wedding dresses
The memories are coming back to her now in bits and
pieces. Sometimes they emerge slowly and sometimes
they engulf her bringing a terrible pain she describes as a
tsunami wave of hurt.
When this happens she raises her arms up in the air.
“I say, dear God in heaven, please help me, and I pray.
Prayers keep you in a line of goodness,” said Kim Oseira,
Alaskan Native and survivor of the Holy Cross Mission
Orphanage in Holy Cross, Alaska.
The boarding school, located along the Yukon River,
over 400 miles from Fairbanks, was officially called
an orphanage in church records. Holy Cross Mission
was founded in 1880 near the village of Holy Cross, a
community of Athabascan and Yupik Eskimos, according
to the Holy Cross tribal website. The early mission
included a day school, boarding school and church.
Today, only a church remains, the Holy Family Catholic
Church served by Catholic diocese of Fairbanks.
Oseira, 73, has come forward to tell her story because,
she says, “It is time.” Over several hours and multiple
interviews she takes us through her childhood years at
the Jesuit orphanage, sharing memories that she once
thought were “completely blotted out.”
Her history, she says, is the same as so many other Native
children who were taken from their families and raised in
religious mission boarding schools in Canada and Alaska.
“This [story] is for those who can’t speak up, for those
who’ve died or gone off the edge into mental illness or
addiction,” she said.
She is sharing the account in hopes that it will help serve
as a memorial for those who have been silenced and
guide them towards some form of catharsis and healing.
And of course she is coming forward for Della Mae,
always for Della Mae.
There are few adults in Oseira’s earliest memories. She
seemed to be alone even at age five in Nome, Alaska,
where she was the primary care giver for her sister, Della
Mae, two years younger.
“I was responsible for feeding her, changing her diapers,
teaching her how to go potty, everything,” she recalls.
Later she learned that her birth parents, non-Native father
and Alaska Native mother, were chronic alcoholics.
Oseira was five years old in 1945 when her mother was
sent to a TB sanatorium and suddenly everything changed.
Her memories are returning in a series of vignettes such as
the following; she is on a plane and holding tightly onto
Della Mae. There is a man wearing a uniform in the plane
with them but he ignores them, speaking only to the pilot.
“All I remember is desperately holding onto Della Mae.
For some reason we were each wearing new dresses and
carrying dolls. We’d never had dolls before. Della Mae
wore blue and I wore pink,” she recalls.
Frightened, she looks down at the ground as the plane
begins to descend toward a huge, stark white cross. The
vision of the cross is a mark, an ominous symbol that fills
her with dread.
That feeling of fear dominated her childhood during
the next 12 years that she and Della Mae lived at Holy
After the plane lands, the man in the uniform takes the
girls to a dirt road and points. “He told us to walk until
we came to a building, “ she said.
The man gets back on the plane and she and Della Mae
begin to walk the two miles to Holy Cross mission.
“Della Mae cried and cried. I just kept walking not
thinking anything, pulling her along and holding onto
the doll,” she said.
In Oseira’s memory, the doll represented a small defense
against her fear and she clung to it as she approached a
small door at the main orphanage building.
The first sight of the nuns, in their long black robes and
starched white habits surrounding their faces, frightens
them badly. Instinctively she follows the nuns’ orders,
cleaning Della Mae who had soiled herself during the
In her next recollection, the fine dresses are gone
replaced by mission uniforms. After searching repeatedly
for the beautiful dolls she finds them later at the bottom
of the outhouse.
The Last Orphans of Holy Cross