November is Native American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate it than to learn something about the history and cultures of the first Americans?

Carl Gawboy is the artist, historian, retired College of St. Scholastica instructor and member of the Bois Forte Band of Minnesota Ojibwe who scripted and directs The Great Hurt. According to Gawboy, the most frequent comment about the performance is, “I didn’t know anything like that happened in America.”

In observation of National Native American Heritage Month, the Circle of Healing, Grand Rapids Human Rights Commission and the Itasca Community College (ICC) O Gitch I Dah club invite Itasca area residents to attend The Great Hurt, a Readers Theater Performance, on Saturday, November 23 at 4:30 pm at Davies Theater on the ICC Campus, 1851 East Highway 169, Grand Rapids. The performance is free and open to the public. Following the performance the audience is invited to enjoy conversation and a catered dinner.

The Great Hurt explores the experiences and the legacy of American Indian boarding schools through eyewitness accounts of both Indian and non-Indian people who lived during the boarding school era. Readers will give voice to their stories.

In the late 1800s, the United States supported an educational experiment that the government hoped would change the traditions and customs of American Indians. Special boarding schools were created in locations all over the United States with the purpose of “civilizing” American Indian youth. Thousands of Native American children were sent far from their homes to live in these schools and learn the ways of white culture. Many struggled with loneliness and fear away from their tribal homes and familiar customs. Some lost their lives to disease outbreaks that spread quickly through the schools. Others thrived despite the hardships, formed lifelong friendships, and preserved their Indian identities.

Teachers are invited to come to the performance, and encourage their students to attend with their families. Lesson plans about the boarding school era are available on the Library of Congress website and the National Endowment for the Humanities website.