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HomeLifestyleHuman InterestA Native American Woman’s Journey from Childhood Trauma to Survivor

A Native American Woman’s Journey from Childhood Trauma to Survivor

Photos provided by Linda Cobe

This article continues our ongoing profile on Indigenous boarding school survivors in Michigan. Though Michigan had three operational federally funded boarding schools, the Holy Childhood School of Jesus in Harbor Springs has been our focus so far on this journey. Due to its late closing in 1984, several of its survivors are still alive. This is Linda’s story. 

I met Linda Cobe on a balmy morning on December 2023 in St. Ignace. We met at the local library, along with three other women survivors of the Holy Childhood School of Jesus of Harbor Springs. We recorded a podcast on their experience at the Indigenous boarding school, which was operational from the 1880s right up until 1984. (Find the QR code to scan and listen to our podcast on the back cover of this magazine).

Linda and I had spoken over the phone a few times before meeting in person about her drive and need to share her truth with the world. During our conversation, she spoke of the pushback that she and other survivors have received against sharing their truths, especially in the Harbor Springs area, although others are embracing their healing and reconciliation journey. 

It seems that far too many people want to keep the horrific facts about the school buried under the paved road in Harbor Springs, right along with the remains of an untold number of young children who attended Holy Childhood. Yes, their remains are knowingly buried under a paved road in Harbor Springs. 

It was during our podcast meeting that I learned of the book “Red, White and Blues,” an autobiography written by Linda and self-published. She signed a copy for me. 

It’s difficult for me to express the anguish that I feel as I listen to and read the truths of these brave souls, as they speak of the horrors that were committed against them when they were mere children, and at the hands of people we are all told to trust. 

It’s not difficult because I feel some sort of guilt or responsibility for the atrocities. I cannot control what happened in the past, nor can I do anything to erase it and the Indigenous peoples’ experiences. It’s difficult for me because far too many people — far too many white people — in the present time want to deny the reconciliation and healing of our Native brothers and sisters for the atrocities they experienced. Far too many want to keep the secrets buried and deny they ever happened. Whether they do so out of their own fear of discomfort or simply due to perpetuated racism and bigotry is the question. 


I’m sure that for some, the guilt and responsibility that can come with owning our country’s history is something they feel they cannot face. Perhaps they have not faced their own traumas from their own lives and simply do not have the capacity to recognize others. 

Whatever the reason, this is why I’m angry. My anger comes not from what happened, which was horrific, but from people I see as cowards and perpetrators of ongoing racism and bigotry in our country. When mere acknowledgment and reconciliation can put the past in its rightful place and move us all in a more positive, inclusive, and healing direction, far too many choose to perpetuate all of the hatred, abuse, and divisiveness from the past and project it into the present. In fact, a good portion of our society chooses to perpetuate all of that hatred, abuse, and divisiveness; at least, many of the voices that are amplified the most do. It’s unacceptable. 

When I arrived home the evening after recording the podcast, I dove into Linda’s book. One might think that it gets easier hearing these stories, one after the other. It doesn’t. 

What it does make me is more determined to help elevate Native Americans’ voices, their experiences and their truths so more people will hear them; so more people will acknowledge them; so more people will walk the road of reconciliation and healing; so history will STOP repeating itself. 

Enough of my words. Here are some of Linda’s. 

Below are excerpts from the first chapter of Linda’s book. It is titled “History Repeats Itself.” They are followed by a poem written by Linda. 

My great-grandparents and grandparents lived during a time when the Indian wars were over. Treaties were being made (and broken). The various tribes were being rounded up and forced to live on reservations. A few of the last holdouts had scattered deep into the forests trying to hang on to their culture. Among these were the Lac Vieux Desert Tribe, a name meaning, “Lake in the Clearing.” Still holding on to their traditional way of life, they settled near the Michigan/Wisconsin border, at Lac Vieux Desert, or the Old Village. At that time, Lac Vieux Desert was part of the L’Anse Reservation, later to be called the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The Band was one of 12 Bands of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians that signed the Treaty of 1842. They retained their rights to hunt, fish, and gather in the ceded territories of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. 

… My grandparents lived off the land and taught their children our traditional ways. Our original traditional ways did not include the use of alcohol. When the Whites introduced alcohol, it became a dominating element in the lives of many Indians. It really was “firewater” to our people. You just did not know what to expect from a “drunken Indian…” Being under the influence, unable to think relationally, and naively thinking that the White man would honor his word, Natives were easily coerced and taken advantage of. We became not only dependent on the government to feed, clothe, and house us, but also became dependent on the substance that numbed our pain and our losses. 

… The government and missionaries still ran boarding schools to house Indian Children during the ’60s and ’70s. I was surprised to learn that Indian boarding schools still exist today in different parts of the country. Times have changed from long ago and these schools are now run quite differently. Some are now tribally-run and some are still funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The federal laws today are now structured to promote our culture. Classes taught such as native language, basket-making, drum circles, regalia-making, etc. help ensure that “the old ways” are not forgotten.

If only we had that opportunity. Just about every one of us from Watersmeet was forced to attend Holy Childhood School in Harbor Springs, MI. It opened in 1829 and finally closed the doors, due to low enrollment in 1983. But not before destroying hundreds or maybe thousands of lives. Painful stories have been documented concerning the physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the nuns. By stripping us of our identities and breaking up our families, they found it easier to manipulate and assimilate us into the mainstream. Some might call that oppression, and rightfully so, but the government and missionaries believed it was for our own good. 

Our parents continued to drink themselves into oblivion over the pain, guilt, and inability to control their own destiny or their children’s. If they did not comply, they would have their meager government rations taken away, threatened with jail time, or have the younger children still at home taken from them. When we returned home from there, we began to drink excessively, also. Alcoholism, depression, and suicide were commonplace on most reservations. Today the rates are still high on a per capita basis. Being taken from their families, mistreated, abused, and the loss of our culture took its toll on a once proud people.

… Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the American Indian Movement (AIM) became influential in bringing about a resurgence of our culture in religion, ceremonies, language, and the arts. Although controversial, AIM brought Native issues to the forefront through their activism. 

… As a teenager in the 70s, even though they were in the news, I was not aware of what the Movement was all about. I had the chance to meet some of the AIM leaders when they were asked to come to Baraga twenty-some years later. I remember seeing a t-shirt someone was wearing at that time that paid homage to our famous chiefs. The front of the t-shirt read, “Our heroes are your enemies,” and had pictures of Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Dennis Banks, and Clyde Bellecourt from AIM. The back of the t-shirt read, “Your heroes are our enemies,” and had pictures of U.S. presidents and General Custer. 

… Our youth and the next generations to come need to know the true story of what our people have gone through to get to where we are today. They must not forget all that we had, what we almost lost of our culture, what we have gotten back, and how to hold on to it. Our future depends upon this. It is just as important today as it was yesterday. The Native values such as caring for each other should be the priority. By helping others, we help ourselves to build character … 

The photos of the quilts you see on these pages were created for and gifted to boarding school survivors from St. Anne’s Church in Ortonville. They are called “Survivor Quilts.” When I asked the ladies during our podcast how they felt about the quilts coming from a Catholic Parish, and if it was enough, they all said that they appreciated them and that acknowledging the atrocities that were committed against them is an important step in their healing. And that, my friends, is the essence of sharing their truths: They simply want their truths to be acknowledged, they want to reconcile the past and heal the intergenerational trauma, and they want history to stop repeating itself. 

You can purchase Linda’s book “Red, White, and Blues,” in our Shop. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the book go directly to Linda. LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN is placing the book for sale in our online store for free. Linda is providing free shipping to all who purchase her book along with an autographed copy. She also extends her thanks to you for supporting her healing journey and helping to elevate her voice and the voices of the Indigenous community.

Listen to our Podcast Series Reconciliation and Healing of Michigan’s Indigenous Peoples with Survivors of the Holy Childhood School of Jesus in Harbor Springs. Read the related articles of this series, The Truth Teller and A Time for Reconciliation and Healing.

Tamara Graham
Tamara Grahamhttps://livelovelocalmi.com
With an adventurous spirit and a burning desire to make the world work for all of us, Tamara encourages others to embrace self-love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and an ever important sense of humor. With over 30 years of diverse marketing experience, including a decade in publishing, she brings a fresh and innovative perspective to the industry. Her concept revolves around experiential magazines that captivate both online and in print. Tamara's visionary project, LIVE. LOVE. LOCAL. MICHIGAN™, unveils the wonders of our breathtaking home state, igniting love and admiration among Michiganders for where they live. By fostering this deep connection, she inspires a genuine appreciation and love for where we live!
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