Patty Grant’s Journey of Forgiveness

By: Sandy Tomlin-Sutker


“When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”   ~Chinese Proverb


Forgiving others is not easy.  Forgiving ourselves is equally hard.  Patty Grant’s journey to forgiveness has taken her from personal trauma to recovery.  Along the way she envisioned a way to help others heal and begin their own journey toward reconciliation.


But, her mom’s youth was marred, as so many Native Americans were, by being forced into a boarding school.  She was not allowed to speak her own language and life was about survival.  “So many of the people who grew up in Indian boarding schools came out with no parenting skills; mom wouldn’t teach or allow us to speak Cherokee, she never told us she loved us, or gave us the validation and acknowledgment a child needs to develop self worth. Her love was shown by her commitment and responsibility to raise us.”


Patty’s youth was characterized by emotional, physical and mental abuse.  She barely finished high school because of constant bullying and threats to her life.  “It was common for me to see my older siblings drinking and when I was 17 I started drinking too, and became an alcoholic right out of the shute.  Alcohol was magic to me and I self-medicated the pain away.”


The next few years were full of more trauma: married at age 22, birthed a son, then divorced largely because of her drinking, married again at age 30. During that period, “even though I was not equipped for college I went for two quarters; something inside kept me going but then I quit.  I did that many times over my life and it took me 23 years to get a four-year degree.”


In 1987 her Journey took a more direct path.  “Several events came together to get me into recovery.  I was sexually assaulted about that time, my mother had a stroke and I feared I would not be myself with her because of my drinking.”  She was in therapy about the assault but had continued to self-medicate with alcohol.  “I was waiting tables and trying to go to school at that time.  I believe God gave me a moment of clarity.”   She saw herself and a future she didn’t want in two older ladies who were still waiting tables.


“I needed both events for God to get my attention.  Alcohol had been the only way I handled things.”  She quit waiting tables, took a job as a bank teller and then as a clerk in a chemical dependency unit of the hospital.  Being in the presence of so many others with alcohol dependency led her to AA and full-fledged recovery.  “I went to Oklahoma from 1991-1993 and finally got my degree and a certificate as a substance abuse counselor, then came back to Cherokee and became a drug and alcohol counselor in an adolescent treatment center.


“There was so much inside me that prevented me from doing what was right; I was hurting and broken on the inside.  Working the steps in AA was like peeling an onion.  It takes courage to take off the rose-colored glasses and look at your character defects and own them.  It’s difficult to accept the fact that others only hurt us out of their own pain.  I appreciated what my higher power did for me; I didn’t deserve the mercy and grace given to me.  I recognized that I was as guilty of doing harm to others lives, yet wanted to hold them accountable for what they did to me.  There’s something wrong with that perception.  I had to acknowledge my own part in the wreckage I’d created for others.  I recognized I had wanted them to forgive me but felt justified in not forgiving them.  If God is going to forgive me, why wouldn’t I do that for someone who’s done me wrong?”


At this juncture, her personal journey linked in to the larger journey of her people.  Patty learned of the concept of Historical Grief and Trauma while in Oklahoma.  In the early 1990s a movement called White Bison began (see sidebar) a wellbriety process across the country.  They had done a forgiveness journey with the boarding schools and set a goal of bringing 100 Native American communities into healing by 2010.  “I thought this was the solution.  In 1996 when presented to upper management at the center it fell on deaf ears.  Then in 2003 a medical doctor heard about the concept and it took her credentials to get their attention.  Doors began to open; we had three conferences and five churches on the boundary apologized to the Cherokee for what the churches did to them.”


This spring 23 Cherokee took the journey to Oklahoma.  Patty says, “it was one of the most powerful events I’ve had the honor of being part of. The goal was to go out, meet, talk about forgiveness and what it means to forgive, what are the benefits.  We planned to stop at significant sites where our ancestors stopped along the trail.  We collected soil to bring their spirits back home and to acknowledge and honor what they went through. We were able to connect with their pain and spirits.  It was so powerful; we believe all the pain and atrocities still linger.  We did ceremony and talking circle at each site.


“We had seven youth who went on trip and they got it; they were an intricate part of whole process.  They really understand what the Trail represents and what a strong people we come from.  We all bonded and are a family now.  The youngest was a 12-year-old girl who spoke with such wisdom.  We can nurture that seed for her.”


In May the group held a gathering to bring the seeds of their journey to the tribe.  May 25 was a day for enrolled members to talk about forgiveness on personal and spiritual level; Dr. Ann Bullock talked about physical results of not forgiving.  Several shared what it means to forgive, the benefits, and the results of not forgiving.   On the 26th they invited others to participate in ceremony and hear speakers.


I asked Patty what this most recent part of her Journey to Forgiveness meant to her. “As a person living in this community who has grown up with my own social ills, I recognize as a productive member of this tribe that my position as an enrolled member requires responsibility and accountability.  I fully give credit to God; if left up to my own devices I couldn’t do what I’ve done.  Make sure He gets all the glory.  He has honored me with an opportunity to participate in this event and see something we would not have seen if we hadn’t gone.  Not up to me how each individual moves forth in their journey.  We all got the opportunity to recognize how important each of our lives is.  We can make a choice to make everything count or do and say and believe things that keep the cycle of dysfunction going.”


The Vision of White Bison

Through White Bison (, it’s Founder and President Don Coyhis, Mohican Nation, has offered healing resources to Native America since 1988. White Bison offers sobriety, recovery, addictions prevention, and wellness/Wellbriety learning resources to the Native American community nationwide. Many non-Native people also use White Bison’s healing resource products, attend its learning circles, and volunteer their services.

In the Four Laws of Change

1. Change is from within
2. In order for development to occur,   it must be preceded by a vision
3. A great learning must take place
4. You must create a Healing Forest


Between 1880 and 1902, 25 off-reservation boarding schools were built and 20,000 to 30,000 Native American children went through the system.  The students were thrown into a military style regimentation of classes and activities. They were up at the call of a bugle at 5:45 a.m. with exercise and military drills following. Breakfast was at 6:45. Industrial work began at 8:00 and formal school at 9:00.

Students were prohibited from speaking their native languages. Instead, they were supposed to converse and even think in English. If they were caught “speaking Indian” they were severely beaten with a leather belt.

All told, more than 100,000 Native Americans were forced by the U.S. government to attend 450 Christian schools where tribal languages and cultures were replaced by English and Christianity.
There is a growing body of evidence that the traumas experienced by Native American children at the schools is largely responsible for the alarming levels of suicides, substance abuse, domestic violence and child sexual abuse in Native American communities today.

For our healing as Native people in the U.S., maybe the greatest examples are the recent apologies of both Australia and Canada to their indigenous peoples in 2008.  Then in December of 2009 the American government took the first step towards being the third Western nation to apologize to its Native people.  It was only a first step because it was never made publicly and openly.  And it did not mention the details of the boarding school era in the U.S. and how those boarding school wounds have been passed down the generations and are still responsible for the disparities between Native communities and the rest of Turtle Island.


To learn more about the movement to get the US Government to make a formal apology for the Boarding School and other atrocities (as Australia and Canada have already done for indigenous people in their countries) go to:  There is a short, heart-felt video and several resources including a copy of the actual bill passed in the US Congress but now lying dormant.
The site also contains a link to a searingly real video of the first Forgiveness Journey where individuals who were raised in Indian Boarding Schools tell their stories, many speaking about them for the first time.



 Sense of Place
 Group Harmony
 Strong Individual Character
 Honor the Past
 Educate the Children
 Possess a Sense of Humor



in 2000 the Cherokee Preservation Foundation was established with a compact between the tribe and the state of North Carolina.  Calling for a percentage of revenues from the new gaming enterprise to be used for community enhancement, funding was designed and grants given that same year.
“No other Indian Tribe… carries a state compact mandating gaming proceeds are directed toward improving the quality of life of Tribal people and their neighbors.  By adopting cherished Cherokee core values as guideposts, the Foundation has become a strong force for posiitve change.”  ~Ben Sherman, Oglala Lakota

One important initiative that has inter-generational impact is the Financial Literacy program.  Every member of the Eastern Band receives annual earnings.  These are released in a lump sum at age 18.  The Foundation established a  “high quality and educational” program to teach youth about money management; they must complete it before they can receive their Tribal earnings!



Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker