The announcement comes just weeks after the remains of 215 children were found buried at the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced last week that the federal government will investigate its past oversight of Native American boarding schools and work to "uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences" of the notorious institutions. The Indian Boarding School Initiative will compile and review records to "identify past boarding school facilities and sites, the location of known and possible student burial sites located at or near school facilities, and the identities and Tribal affiliations of children interred at such locations," Haaland said in a secretarial memo. The announcement comes just weeks after the remains of 215 children — some as young as 3 years old — were found buried at the site of what was once Canada's largest Indigenous residential school.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has announced an investigation into the “unspoken traumas” of children who over the decades attended Native American boarding schools. https://t.co/xIopnRop0k— The Associated Press (@AP) June 23, 2021
"Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 and running through the 1960s, the United States enacted laws and implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the Nation," Haaland — a member of New Mexico's Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary— said in the memo. "During that time, the purpose of Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children 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."
To address the inter-generational 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.— Secretary Deb Haaland (@SecDebHaaland) June 22, 2021
We are therefore uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long. [3/3] https://t.co/wD88TNCCWL— Secretary Deb Haaland (@SecDebHaaland) June 22, 2021
"In most instances, Indigenous parents could not visit their children at these schools. Many students endured routine injury and abuse. Some perished and were interred in unmarked graves," she added. "Survivors of the traumas of boarding school policies carried their memories into adulthood as they became the aunts and uncles, parents, and grandparents to subsequent generations. The loss of those who did not return left an enduring need in their families for answers that, in many cases, were never provided. Distance, time, and the scattering of school records have made it more difficult, if not impossible, for their families to locate a loved one's final resting place and bring closure through the appropriate ceremonies."
Sec. Haaland: "I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won't undo the heartbreak and loss that so many of us feel, but only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we're all proud to embrace."— Aliyah Chavez (@AliyahJChavez) June 22, 2021
According to The Associated Press, Haaland announced the Indian Boarding School Initiative while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians during the group’s midyear conference. She acknowledged that the review process will be long, difficult, and painful and will not undo the heartbreak and loss endured by many families. Interior Department officials explained that in addition to trying to shed more light on the loss of life at the boarding schools, they will work to protect burial sites associated with the schools and will consult with tribes on how best to do that while respecting families and communities. A final report from agency staff is due by April 1, 2022.
In a recent opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Haaland shared how her own maternal grandparents were stolen from their families at the age of eight and were forced to live away from their parents and communities until they were 13. "My family's story is not unlike that of many other Native American families in this country. We have a generation of lost or injured children who are now the lost or injured aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents of those who live today," she wrote.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative a month after the undocumented remains of Indigenous children were found under a former Canadian residential school. https://t.co/wXUhyqEX3w— VICE (@VICE) June 22, 2021
"I once spent time with my grandmother recording our history for a writing assignment in college. It was the first time I heard her speak candidly about how hard it was — about how a priest gathered the children from the village and put them on a train, and how she missed her family. She spoke of the loneliness she endured. We wept together. It was an exercise in healing for her and a profound lesson for me about the resilience of our people, and even more about how important it is to reclaim what those schools tried to take from our people."