In the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States established federally-funded Indian boarding schools that aimed to strip Native American children of their culture. 

According to historians, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous families were forced to send their children to these schools, where many suffered physical, sexual, and cultural abuse and neglect. Many children never returned home, and their fates have yet to be accounted for by the U.S. government. 

In an effort to bring awareness to this atrocity, artist Jason Montgomery created Save the Man, a memorial that remembers, honors, and acknowledges those who died while attending these schools in the U.S. and Canada. Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: In the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States established federally funded Indian boarding schools that aimed to strip Native American children of their culture.

According to historians, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous families were forced to send their children to these schools, where many suffered physical, sexual, and cultural abuse and neglect. Many children never returned home, and their fates have yet to be accounted for by the U.S. government.

In an effort to bring awareness to this atrocity, artist Jason Montgomery created a memorial entitled “Save the Man” that remembers, honors, and acknowledges those who died while attending these schools in the U.S. and Canada. Producer Dave Fraser brings us the story.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: California native Jason Montgomery is a visual artist, poet, and playwright.

In 2016, he, along with his wife, Alexandra Woolner, founded Attack Bear Press in Easthampton, an arts collaborative that has developed several shared projects, art installations, and workshops.

Jason Montgomery, Attack Bear Press: A lot of the work that I do in that Attack Bear Press does, it has a social justice element. I think that comes from kind of the long history of political action through Chicano art.

You know, the idea was to create art and create esthetic and to guide and sculpt culture, while also speaking to the the the issues that surrounded our community.

Dave Fraser: Montgomery’s Save the Man installation is on the ground floor of Eastworks in Easthampton. The exhibit is in response to what he says is the discovery of nearly 8,000 Indigenous children found dead at former residential school sites in Canada.

He says this discovery provides evidence of the systematic brutality of the residential school program both in Canada and the U.S.

Jason Montgomery: There was a famous quote from — in the U.S. around the policy dealing, dealing with Native Americans and kind of the U.S. governmental philosophy around how they would interact with Natives, and that was “Save the man, kill the Indian.”

In the space right now, we have about two thousand orange finder flags. Each flag represents, at this point, about four Indigenous children for every one flag that’s been found.

So, it’s about 8,000, I think, at this point.

Dave Fraser: Montgomery says from 1879 to the present day, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Native Americans attended Indian boarding schools as children.

Jason Montgomery: The brutality at these schools was centered around disassociating the children from their Native culture and from their Native identity, from stripping that aspect of who they were away from them, so that they could be reconditioned to exist kind of outside of their community.

Dave Fraser: Along with the orange marker flags, Montgomery has included pieces of a previous exhibit, three freestanding collaged wooden structures.

Jason Montgomery: It was a three dimensional structure at first, and for this project, we wanted to break it apart.

Really start kind of disassembling this, this thing that masked the real horrors that Native and Indigenous people deal with — and are still dealing with, because this is a very contemporary trauma.

Dave Fraser: Visitors to this memorial are intentionally blocked from entering the space. Viewing can be seen through windows.

People who do visit the memorial are asked to share their feelings by leaving a word or phrase in the boxes provided, or leaving a message on the glass door.

Jason Montgomery: We have been keeping the door locked and shut. We wanted to create a barrier so that people can’t come in and have a moment of release.

We wanted the community to really have to have to reflect on this, to look in on it and to then share back.

Dave Fraser: Some of the thoughts left by people will be incorporated into a series of poems that will be shared with the community and sent to lawmakers calling for the investigation into the U.S. residential school sites.

Jason Montgomery: We’re asking you to leave your words. We’re asking you to let us take your words, and to use your words to communicate about how vital the investigations are, because that is what we hope to accomplish with our art.

A lot of what I do is is drawn to this idea of “How can I activate the community? How can my work move people to action?” It’s not just about appreciation, it’s not just about consuming this piece of art and moving on.

It’s about really moving them to the next step, which is — I’ve I’ve been engaged, I’ve been informed, and now I’m going to move.