In the Beginning was Water and Sky | Shorts | PBS Indies Showcase

In the Beginning was Water and Sky

"In the Beginning was Water and Sky" is a haunting fairy-tale drama that blends the horrors of fantasy and real life historical events. The short film follows a Native American girl in the 1700s and a Native American boy in the 1960s who are both trying to find their way back to a home that has been taken from them. 

A Brief History of Indian Boarding Schools

Shortly after European settlers arrived in America in the 15th and 16th centuries, warfare between colonists and Native Americans erupted and lasted for nearly 300 years [1]. The following centuries were marked with government policies that put Native land and resources under the ownership of Europeans. During this time, Catholic and Protestant missionaries set out across the country in an attempt to convert Native American tribes to Christianity. Increased colonial and religious involvement in Native life contributed to an erosion of Indigenous ceremonial practices, spirituality, political and educational systems, language, and culture.

Beginning in the 1860s and spanning a period of approximately 125 years, hundreds of Indian Boarding Schools were established across America by the government and various denominations of the Christian Church. Children were forcibly relocated away from their families and taught to abandon their Native languages, spirituality, and heritage through a doctrine of forced education and labor. Many students were exposed to poor living conditions, disease, malnourishment, and even physical and sexual abuse, such as forcible confinement, beatings, whippings, and piercing children’s tongues with needles if they spoke their Native languages [2][3][4][5]. In some extreme cases, children scrubbed their skin raw and bleached their hair blonde in an attempt to be perceived as white [6]. Numerous children perished trying to escape the schools [7][8]. It is estimated that over 180,000 Native American children were interned in the Boarding Schools [9]. Though it is still unknown how many children died as a result of the schools, the number is estimated to be in thousands [10][11].


Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools

Following the 1972 Indian Educational Act, Tribes gained control over the schools. Today, the Bureau of Indian Education oversees 185 schools across 23 states and revised the educational mandates to focus on cultural preservation [12].

Indian Boarding Schools not only impacted the stability of Indigenous languages and cultural practices, but health care professionals working in Indian Country cite a direct relation between the trauma experienced in boarding schools and high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and suicide among boarding school survivors and their families today [13][14][15].

Today, Native American communities work to preserve Tribal cultures and increase public awareness about the lasting impacts of historical trauma stemming from colonization and Indian Boarding Schools.


Photo Gallery

This film has received funding from Vision Maker Media. Additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, the National Film Board of Canada, and the Independent Filmmaker Project.  

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[1] Leahy, Todd, and Raymond Wilson. “Historical Dictionary of Native American Movements.”Historical Dictionary of Native American Movements, Scarecrow Press, 2008.

[2] King, Thomas. The Inconvenient Indian: a Curious Account of Native People in North America. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

[3] Ruland-Thorne, Kate. Historic Tales of Colorado's Grand Valley: Heroes, Heroines, Hucksters and Hooligans. The History Press, 2016.

[4] Study Guide for Louise Erdrich’s “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways.” Gale, Cengage Learning.

[5] Hansen, Howard. Twilight on the Thunderbird: a Memoir of Quileute Indian Life. BookBaby, 2014.

[6] Pipe, Beatrice Blue. The Bosom of Abraham Knowledge Must Be Transmitted to the Young. IUniverse Inc, 2015.

[7] Trafzer, Clifford E., et al. Boarding School Blues: Revisiting American Indian Educational Experiences. University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

[8] Lobo, Susan, et al. Native American Voices: a Reader. Routledge, 2016.

[9] “Kill the Indian. Save the Child” — One Hundred Year of Indian Boarding Schools and the Systematic Assault on Indigenous Cultures and Languages in the United States. UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People, 5th Session, Geneva, July, 2012. Submission from the National Indian Youth Council (NIYC), Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA.

[10] “6,000 Kids Died in Residential Schools: Canada Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”Indian Country Media Network, 2 June 2015,

[11] Smith, Andrea. Indigenous Peoples and Boarding Schools: A Comparative Study. Secretariat of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Apr. 2010,

[12] Bureau of Indian Education | Schools, 31 Oct. 2017,

[13] Pember, Mary Annette. “When Will U.S. Apologize for Genocide of Indian Boarding Schools?”Huffington Post, 24 June 2015,

[14] Bombay, Amy, et al. “The Impact of Stressors on Second Generation Indian Residential School Survivors.” Transcultural Psychiatry, vol. 48, no. 4, 12 Sept. 2011, pp. 367–391.Sage Journals,

[15] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Canada's Residential Schools The Legacy; the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Vol. 5, McGill Queens Univ, 2016.


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