For many years a small child, teenager, or adult was placed into an institution where they could be cared for “properly” because of differences that are not understood by the parents or guardians. The parents were told by doctors, the state, and society that the institution is where their children belonged. Some of the time instead of being cared for and nurtured these individuals were mistreated and misunderstood. Not only did these people suffer cruelty at the hands of their caregivers, they were denied fundamental respect and dignity at the time of their death.
They were simply put in the ground with a small numbered marker; there was no acknowledgement of the person they were. Remembering with Dignity is fighting to give these people the dignity and remembrance they each deserve.
During the 2013 legislative session, Advocating Change Together is seeking $1 million for the Remembering with Dignity project. The project has restored 7,139 markers and has another 750 in process. Priorities include cemeteries at Faribault and Fergus Falls, and many smaller cemeteries. An allocation from state lawmakers would provide markers for 3,500 more graves.
In fall 2012 Remembering with Dignity held two ceremonies to honor and remember individuals buried in the state hospital cemeteries in Rochester and Hastings. Project staff and volunteers have worked to find names and give dignity to individuals who lived and died in Minnesota state hospitals. More than 13,000 graves are marked with numbers. These numbers demonstrate the lack of respect and dignity given to these people and their lives.
Through replacing the numbers with names, Remembering with Dignity is not only remembering the lives of these people but also educating communities about human rights for individuals with disabilities.
Throughout the state there are cemeteries in Moose Lake, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Willmar, Cambridge, Anoka, St. Peter and Faribault. The work of self-advocates has paid off tremendously as cemeteries in Hastings, Moose Lake and Anoka are completed.
This achievement reflects the collaboration and hard work of self-advocates, legislators and community members. Annual ceremonies are held in St. Peter, Cambridge, and Hastings. In Hastings, self-advocates and community members gathered in a circle to remember the lives of the people who are buried there.
Among many self-advocates and community organizations at the October ceremony in Rochester were Senators Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) and Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Senjem authored the 2012 Remembering with Dignity legislation. Some name markers still need to be laid at the Rochester cemetery.
Once all the cemeteries are completed there will be an annual ceremony at each place to remember the lives that have been lived, past societal attitudes and where society needs to go in the future.
During both ceremonies, stories were shared from self-advocates who had lived in a state hospital. Songs and poems of remembrance and change were shared and flowers were placed on markers to remember individually the people who lay there. These actions exhibit the spirit and strength of the people who were gathered. As sung through the song, Soon and Very Soon, by Andre Crouch, lyrics adapted by Bruce Thomas/ with additional verses by Bret Hesla.
“Soon and very soon, we are gonna change the world, we will not give up, we are gonna change the word. All together, all together, we’re gonna change the world.”