Secretary Haaland announces Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tuesday at the National Congress of American Indians 2021 Mid Year Conference, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, an extensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.
In the secretarial memo that accompanied the announcement, Secretary Haaland advises the U.S. Department of Interior to prepare a report detailing available historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites, relating to the federal boarding school program in preparation for a future site work, which will be under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
“The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” said Secretary 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 we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
Secretary Haaland recently reflected on the inter-generational trauma and her own family’s personal experiences created by these policies.
“My family’s story is not unlike that of many other Native American families in this country,” she wrote. “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.”
Bryan Newland, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, also delivered remarks outlying implementation of this effort:
“We must shed light on what happened at federal boarding schools. As we move forward in this work, we will engage in Tribal consultation on how best to use this information, protect burial sites, and respect families and communities.”
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 through the 1960’s, the United States enacted laws and implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. 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. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities.
The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School has motivated the Department to create this new initiative to serve as an investigation about the loss of human life and lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools. The main goal will be to identify 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 the children interred at such locations.
The work, which will proceed in phases, will include identifying and collecting records and information related to the Indian boarding school program from 1819 to 1969, and formal consultations with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations, and Native Hawaiian organizations to help clarify the processes and procedures for protecting identified burial sites and associated information.
The final written report on the investigation will be submitted to Secretary Haaland by April 1, 2022.