'What they went through': Groups observe National Day of Racial Healing

·6 min read

Jan. 25—PLATTSBURGH — Approximately 40 masked and socially distanced audience members attended the National Day of Racial Healing event Tuesday at the Strand Center Theatre in Plattsburgh.

The event, emceed by Dr. Michelle Bonati, assistant professor in the special education master's program at SUNY Plattsburgh as well as the campus lead with the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center, and Dr. Vincent Carey, a professor of History and department chair, featured North Country groups, representing the area's racial diversity, who virtually shared how their work promotes healing.

The program, hosted by the Strand Center for the Arts in downtown Plattsburgh in conjunction with the newly recognized SUNY Plattsburgh Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center, was part of the National Day of Racial Healing.

Live and recorded messages and presentations included:

Tsi ietsenhtha (Gee Yeh Jon' Ta), who provided an Indigenous land acknowledgment and presentations/exchange by Penny Clute and Emily Kasennisaks Cecilia Stacey about the Turtle Sculpture by internationally-known Mohawk potter Natasha Smoke Santiago at Peace Point Park in Plattsburgh; Outside Art: Plattsburgh Public Art Project's presentation of the Michael Anderson mural in downtown Plattsburgh, which was narrated by Carey; and the North Country Underground Railroad Association with President Jacqueline Madison's tour of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm; and videos from the TRHT Campus Center partner, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

"The National Day of Racial Healing is a time to reflect on our shared values and promote healing from the effects of racism," Dr. Michelle Bonati said in a press release.

"We will share how people can get involved in healing circles. These conversations focus on active listening and being open to the perspectives and experiences of others to increase empathy and compassion."

The National Day of Racial Healing itself was an opportunity to bring all people together in their common humanity.

The event presented work of community groups that create a better understanding of the experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the North Country.


For Emily Kasennisaks Cecilia Stacey, a Turtle Clan member of the Mohawk Nation, racial healing is individual.

"Just like no two people are alike, no two persons with their own experiences are alike," said the Plattsburgh resident.

"Just to tell my own story, my family that came before me helping me with my life. I would not be here without my family, their struggles, what they went through."

Stacey dedicated her Plattsburgh State bachelor's degree to her father, Thomas "Tom" Taronhata Stacey, and her Clinton Community College associate's degree to her paternal grandmother, Cecilia Foot, who was named after her mother, Cecilia Sharrow.

"I dedicated (it) to my grandmother Cecilia just because that was something she could never do," Stacey said.

Stacey's father worked at Marriott Corporation at SUNY Plattsburgh for 20 years.

"Could not read or write but worked for a college," she said.

"So, I felt that it was appropriate to dedicate my PSU bachelor's degree to my dad. I made a copy for my dad and put it in a frame. And I said even though it has my name on it, this is our last name. I made it because you made it. His survival granted my birth. Unlike some of those other kids, I wouldn't be here."


One of five children of Harry and Adele Cecilia (Foot) Stacey of Kahnawá:ke, Tom attended a Canadian residential school.

From the 1870s until 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were placed in residential schools across Canada, often against their parents' will, according to www.globalnews.ca

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, according to www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca.

An estimated 6,000 children died at residential schools (records are incomplete).

"Healing takes sometimes from stuff like that it will take your whole lifetime," Stacey said.

"It's very sad. I feel bad for my dad that he can't read or write, and he has so many lost opportunities. I sit there and think to myself, how horrible of an experience that my uncles went through. I said when we talk about survivors of residential schools, what exactly was it that we survived? Can anybody tell me because I don't know?

"We're alive. But is that supposed to be some kind of consolation for something? I don't know. Healing will take you through your whole life, and that's the message that I'll send to the next individual, whatever. Whatever makes you feel good without hurting somebody else is healing."

Healing cannot be accomplished without truth telling, Bonati pointed out.

"And apologize, too," Stacey said.

"Let's add that. Apology. Apologize. You've done something wrong to somebody, don't pretend, you know, that it didn't happen. Then talking about generations ago and talking about in this generation because what my father says, what's past is dead and gone. So let all of that other stuff go and just be responsible for what you've done in your life."

"I completely understand that," Clute said.

"So many non-Native people don't know there's something to heal from."

"Yeah, that's true," Stacey said.

"You have to help educate them about the past, the wrongs of the past, the intentional wrongs of the past and that they're not all in the past," Clute said.

"For me, my life is so different, my role is so different from your world. So, I think part of my obligation is to probe that past and expose it."

"It's equally hard, Penny, because the healing for the Natives is almost like wanting to forget," Stacey said.

"Right? We wanted so desperately generation after generation to let that go. But then if people do not know, like this whole deep secret with the residential schools, it's like ripping a wound wide open for all of us."

Carey led a moment of silence and reflections of the stain of antisemitism in light of the pain and suffering of the Jewish community after last Saturday's 11-hour hostage standoff at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.


Outside Art co-founders Julia Devine and Amy Guglielmo submitted a statement read by Carey. (SEE BOX).

Outside Arts' slide presentation ended with a 4th of July 2021 photograph of Anderson's family — his wife, two daughters, sister, and grandnephew — posing with the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir, who were captured in a short clip from Mountain Lake PBS.

For Anderson's family, this was their first return to Plattsburgh since their departure after the Columbia tragedy.

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