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The federal government will investigate its role in operating Native American boarding schools to uncover the “unspoken traumas of the past” involving policies that forcibly removed children from their parents and communities to assimilate them into US culture, the Interior Department secretary has announced.
“I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead,” Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, said Tuesday.
“To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” she said.
The review, which will be conducted under the supervision of the assistant secretary for Indian affairs, will examine historical records with an aim to uncover boarding school facilities and the location of possible student burial sites.
It will also attempt to learn the names and tribal affiliations of the students, the Interior Department said in a statement.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, told members of the National Congress of American Indians in a speech Tuesday that the department is “uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long.”
The government, beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, enacted laws and implemented policies establishing Indian boarding schools across the country.
For 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken to the schools to “culturally assimilate” them “by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities where their American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian identities, languages, and beliefs were to be forcibly suppressed,” the statement said.
The recent discovery of a mass grave with the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a former boarding school in Kamloops, Canada, prompted an examination of how the schools operated.
Haaland addressed her personal connection to the schools in an op-ed earlier this month in the Washington Post.
“The deaths of Indigenous children at the hands of government were not limited to that side of the border. Many Americans may be alarmed to learn that the United States also has a history of taking Native children from their families in an effort to eradicate our culture and erase us as a people. It is a history that we must learn from if our country is to heal from this tragic era,” she wrote in the piece.
”I am a product of these horrific assimilation policies. My maternal grandparents were stolen from their families when they were only 8 years old and were forced to live away from their parents, culture and communities until they were 13. Many children like them never made it back home,” Haaland said.
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