inda Raye Cobe, 64, is a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe, whose healing journey led her to publish in 2015 a short courageous and straightforward memoir called Red, White & Blues. In it, she tells what happened to her just before her 6th birthday, when she, her siblings and cousins were taken from their family homes in Watersmeet, Michigan, to the Holy Childhood School in Harbor Springs, an Indian boarding school five hours away. Cobe writes of arbitrary beatings raining down from the nuns as they screamed that the holy children under their care, whose childhoods they were ending with their fists, were “good for nothing, stinking little, dirty Indians.”
That trauma was followed by another — adoption out of her family and tribe to a white family in Baraga, a village on the Keweenaw Bay of Lake Superior named for Bishop Baraga, a near mythical figure (in local white lore), whose 35-foot shrine is a local attraction. Though just a little more than an hour’s drive from home, it too was a world apart, which was the point of the forced assimilation of Indian children into the white world. At first, her adopted parents lavished her with toys, dolls, even a bicycle, none of which she’d ever had. But by the fourth grade, she was being routinely sexually exploited by her adopted father as well as the family priest, as her adopted mother looked away. It went on until Cobe finally escaped into a young marriage, the first of four.
Though it’s still difficult for her to speak publicly about the toll of victimhood and the price of survival (the further assimilation of her own four children), Cobe went to the Pellston, Michigan, stop of U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s “Road to Healing” tour on August 13, 2022. It was a long and emotional day, and she honestly wasn’t sure if she was going to testify or not. But in the end, she did speak, because Cobe hadn’t heard anyone else make her point: While she was only at boarding school for one year, her parents had been so weakened and overwhelmed by their powerlessness at having their children removed to a boarding school, that it was easier for the state to pry her and her younger sister away from her family into adoption. Cobe was the very last speaker on that historic day in which the crimes committed against her, and the atrocities against so many others, became part of this country’s official record.
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