Photo courtesy of Indianz.com
Photo courtesy of Indianz.com

In a new report, the U.S. Department of the Interior has identified numerous Native American Boarding Schools and burial sites from more than a century and a half as part of its efforts to rectify the troubled legacy and harm of federal Indian boarding school policies.  

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released Volume 1 on May 11 of the investigative report as part of the Department’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. 

The investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 schools across 37 states or territories, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii. 

The investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the school system. 

As the investigation continues, the department expects the number of identified burial sites to increase.

“The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies—including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as four years old—are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Haaland said. 

“We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face. It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal.”

The investigation found that the federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education. 

This included renaming children to English names, cutting their hair; discouraging or preventing the use of Indigenous languages, religions and cultural practices; and organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.

The Department said despite assertions to the contrary; the investigation found that the school system largely focused on manual labor and vocational skills that ill-prepared graduates for jobs in the U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies.

The Department said the investigative report is a significant step by the federal government to address the facts and consequences of its federal Indian boarding school policies. 

Policies that resulted in forced cultural assimilation, territorial dispossession and forced removal and relocation of Indigenous People’s children. 

The report also reflects an extensive and first-ever inventory of federally operated schools, including profiles and maps.

At the report’s release, Haaland additionally announced the launch of “The Road to Healing,” a yearlong tour that will include travel across the country giving survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories. 

The tour will also help connect communities with trauma-informed support and facilitate the collection of a permanent oral history.

“The Department’s work thus far shows that an all-of-government approach is necessary to strengthen and rebuild the bonds within Native communities that federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break,” Haaland said. 

“With the President’s direction, we have begun working through the White House Council of Native American Affairs on the path ahead to preserve Tribal languages, invest in survivor-focused services, and honor our obligations to Indigenous communities. We also appreciate the ongoing engagement and support for this effort from Members of Congress and look forward to continued collaboration.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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