New report details scope of native boarding schools, burial sites
Recommendations include identifying surviving attendees, documenting their experiences, and developing a repository of federal records.
WASHINGTON — A newly issued report from the Department of the Interior is the first federal recognition of the impact of Indian boarding schools across the United States.
The report recognizes 408 boarding schools across 37 states (or then-territories) operated between 1819 and 1969, including 30 in South Dakota.
Half of those may have received funding or involvement from a religious organization. The report also shows that the federal government may have used money belonging in tribal trust accounts to fund the attendance of these schools, in addition to annual appropriations from Congress.
The initial investigation documented more than 500 child deaths to 19 schools – a fraction of the more than 400 boarding schools formally identified in the report.
“As the investigation continues, the Department expects the number of recorded deaths to increase,” the report says.
Also expected to increase are the number of identified burial sites – 33 marked and six unmarked, plus 14 that are a combination.
The 106-page report details the “systemic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies” used to assimilate the native populations, including renaming, hair cutting, and the ban on Indigenous languages. Included is a curriculum for first grade students at boarding schools in 1917:
“No Indian is spoken,” reads the ARCIA for 1886, quoted in the report. “There is not an Indian pupil whose tuition and maintenance is paid for by the United States Government who is permitted to study any other language than our own vernacular – the language of the greatest, most powerful, and enterprising nationalities beneath the sun.”
Crowded facilities and poor diets were recognized as contributors to overall health, as well as the use of manual labor designed to give students industrial and agricultural training.
“The economic contribution of Indian and Native Hawaiian children to the Federal Indian boarding school system and beyond remains unknown,” the report reads.
The report concludes that Indian assimilation was “an objective of federal policy, in and of itself.”
“The Department has recognized that targeting Indian children for the Federal policy of Indian assimilation contributed to the loss of the following: (1) life; (2) physical and mental health; (3) territories and wealth; (4) Tribal and family relations; and (5) use of Tribal languages.”
The Department of Interior’s report makes recommendations for the “express policy of cultural revitalization,” including funding a continuing investigation and further research. Further recommendations include identifying surviving attendees, documenting their experiences, and developing a repository of federal records. It also calls for the funding of a federal memorial.
They’re recommending a second report be prepared that focuses on burial sites – identifying them and those buried there. The sensitive nature of that information means it likely wouldn’t be released to the public. The report identifies congressional action that would allow for an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act to protect that information.
“Support exemptions from Freedom of Information Act requests to protect sensitive, specific information on burial locations across the Federal Indian boarding school system that contain remains of Indian children to prevent against well-documented grave-robbing, vandalism, and other disturbances to Indian burial sites.”
Approximately 22% of the original identified boarding schools still operate as educational facilities, such as Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation.