An initial survey commissioned by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland mapped out some of the brutal conditions Native American children endured at more than 400 boarding schools the federal government forced them to between 1819 and 1969. The survey was a first. step, said Mrs Haaland. , toward addressing the “intergenerational trauma” left behind by the policies.
An interior ministry report released Wednesday highlighted abuses suffered by many of the children in the government-run schools, such as beatings, withholding food and solitary confinement. It also identified cemeteries at more than 50 of the former schools, several the department expects to grow as the investigation progresses.
The report is the first step in a comprehensive survey announced in June by Ms Haaland, the first Indian cabinet secretary, after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of children attending similar schools in Canada sparked a national reckoning there.
The initial investigation found that “about 19 federal Indian boarding schools were responsible for more than 500 deaths among American Indians, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian.” That number is expected to grow, the report said.
From 1869 through the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were taken from their homes and families and placed in boarding schools run by the government and churches.
By 1900 there were 20,000 children in the schools; by 1925, the number had more than tripled, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.
The discovery of the unmarked graves in Canada last year — 215 in British Columbia, 750 more in Saskatchewan — led Ms. Haaland announcing that her agency would search the grounds of former schools in the United States and identify any remains. Mrs. Haaland’s grandparents attended such schools.
“The implications of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural extermination of generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Ms Haaland said in a statement. “My priority is not only to give a voice to the survivors and descendants of the federal Indian boarding school policy, but also to address the lasting legacy of these policies so that indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal.”
The 106-page report, compiled by Bryan Newland, the agency’s assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, concludes that further research is needed to better understand the lasting effects of the boarding system on American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Assimilation was only one of the goals of the system, the report said; the other was “territorial dispossession of indigenous peoples through the forced removal and displacement of their children.”
The government has yet to provide a forum or opportunity for survivors or descendants of boarding school survivors or their families to describe their experiences at the schools. In efforts to assimilate Native American children, the schools gave their English names, cut their hair, and banned them from speaking their language and practicing their religions or cultural traditions.
Ms. Haaland also announced plans for a year-long, cross-country tour called The Road to Healing, where boarding school survivors could share their stories.
The Canadian government has made similar efforts, allocating approximately CAD 320 million to communities affected by boarding, cemetery searches and memorial services.