The New Yorker on “Wandering Stars”

In Tommy Lee’s Latest, a Family Tree Grows From Severed Roots

“Wandering Stars” probes the aftermath of atrocity, seeing history and its horrors as heritable.

By Paul Sehgal

What happened in the apple orchard that so frightened the children? Something had been half-glimpsed or heard, something in the night. Rumors sparked but didn’t catch. The children kept their distance, and stayed close to the nearby school. Years passed. The school was shut down. The buildings stood. The orchard grew wild. And, one day, a tourist out walking in the area discovered a piece of bone—a child’s rib.

In 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation began an investigation. Ground-penetrating radar detected what seemed to be evidence of some two hundred graves, presumably belonging to Native American children, in the land surrounding the Kamloops Indian Residential School, in British Columbia. A few weeks later, Cowessess First Nation reported signs of seven hundred and fifty-one graves around the Marieval Indian Residential School, in southern Saskatchewan. As the earth was probed, so were the wounds that were the legacy of residential schools, a cornerstone of colonial policy toward Native Americans across the continent for more than a century.

Hundreds of boarding schools operated in the United States and Canada with the aim of severing children’s spiritual and cultural ties and accelerating their assimilation. “Kill the Indian to save the man” was the guiding principle of the American Army captain Richard Pratt, who established the nation’s first such institution, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, at an old Army barracks in Pennsylvania. Children were forcibly removed from their communities, given new names, and made to convert to Christianity. (Many of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.) Native languages and spiritual practices were forbidden, and punishments could be brutal. St. Anne’s school, which operated until 1976, in Fort Albany First Nation, in Ontario, became notorious for shocking students in a homemade electric chair. Other schools used whips and cattle prods. Still others subjected the children to experiments, deliberately withholding food and medical care. In 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior released an investigative report on the federal Indian boarding schools, which found “rampant physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.” Illness and malnourishment were widespread. Thousands of children, perhaps tens of thousands, disappeared. At the Carlisle Indian School, which operated for four decades, more than two hundred children died, some barely surviving their first month. The last North American residential school closed in 1998. See the full review at The New Yorker.

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