Celebrating Indigenous Voices – StoryCorps

Returning Home: Three Oneida Children Find a Final Resting Place

Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kirby Metoxen knew that many of his family members had been removed from their families in the Oneida Nation and sent to boarding schools. These schools were founded and run by both the United States Government and Christian churches. The purpose was forced assimilation: to strip Native American children of their language, dress, food and rituals. It is estimated that by 1926, around 83% of Native children were attending these schools. 

Pupils at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, circa 1900.

As an adult Kirby was on a road trip with friends to Pennsylvania from Wisconsin. While driving, he was recounting the personal history of his family’s experience at one of these schools in particular, the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. On a whim, they decided to take a detour and visit the school.

The Grave of Ophelia Powless  at the Holy Apostles Cemetery in Oneida, WI. Courtesy of Rodger Patience.

Unbeknownst to Kirby, there were Oneida children buried in a cemetery on the school grounds, now a military base. This revelation led him on an unexpected journey to return those children to the Oneida Nation once and for all.


Top Photo: Rodger Patience and Kirby Metoxen at their StoryCorps interview in Green Bay, Wisconsin on January 27, 2022. By Carl Romey for StoryCorps. 

Originally aired March 18th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“Strong Lines, Beautiful Lines”: Two Alaska Native Women Make Their Mark

When Grete Bergman was in her 20s, she began to think and dream about having facial markings. This was a tradition rooted in her Alaska Native family from the Gwich’in Nation. But growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, she learned a clear message from her father and grandmother that many of their family traditions would not be tolerated, in or outside of the house. 

Nearly ten years later, Grete met Sarah Whalen-Lunn through mutual friends. Sarah’s father is white, but her mother was Inupaq, so she is part of the Inuit Nation. 

Sarah Whalen-Lunn (L), about one year old, with her mother, Irene June Hayes. Grete Bergman (R) age 6 months, with her father, Grafton Bergman. Courtesy of Sarah Whalen-Lunn and Grete Bergman.

Sarah was also drawn to Traditional Face Markings, because she wanted to reconnect with the customs her family had been forced to abandon. In 2016, she enrolled in a program that taught her how to give them.  

Grete Bergman with her Traditional Markings. Courtesy of Sarah Whelan-Lunn.

This is where their paths crossed, and a friendship began. Their connection has helped revive a traditional practice that had been lost to previous generations of women.

Top Photo: Grete Bergman and Sarah Whalen-Lunn at their StoryCorps interview in Anchorage, Alaska on August 14, 2018. By Camila Kerwin for StoryCorps.

Originally aired October 15, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Mother And Son Remember “Grandma Chief”

In 1985, Wilma Mankiller made history when she became the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Native American tribes in the United States.

She would lead for ten years, receiving numerous awards for her achievements, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. In fact, in 2022 the U.S. Mint will feature Wilma Mankiller on a quarter.

During her tenure, enrollment to become a citizen of the Cherokee Tribe more than doubled, and she pushed to revitalize the tribe’s health care system.

She also helped broker a self-governance agreement in the 1990s, paving the way towards tribal sovereignty.

But at first, the transition into power wasn’t made easy for her. Her daughter and grandson, Gina Olaya and Kellen Quinton, came to StoryCorps to talk about how they remember her, and the challenges she faced when she first became Chief.

Gina Olaya and Kellen Quinton at their StoryCorps interview in Oklahoma City on September 27, 2021. By Castle Row Studios for StoryCorps.
Top Photo: Wilma Mankiller in June of 1992. Credit: Getty Images

Originally aired October 8, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Where I Come From

A lifelong journey working on the American railroad.

Barnie Botone

Barnie Botone was 22 years old when he got his very first job on the railroad. Nearly a hundred years prior, his great-great grandfather Guipago, a chief of the Kiowa Tribe of the Great Plains, was imprisoned by the U.S. Army and taken away by train during westward expansion. Botone looks back on the beauty and the tragedies on the American railroads, and the strength he needed to return day after day.

Presented as part of the all-new StoryCorps animation season “This Land,” stories to transport you across America.

Listen to Barnie’s original StoryCorps interview.

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