Federal Residential Schools Initiative a promising step towards truth and healing
Through Levi Rickert
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) addressed the mid-year conference of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
She was quick to mention the discovery late last month of 215 children buried in an unmarked grave at Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada.
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“Like many of you, I was deeply touched by the news of the 215 children found in a mass grave at a residential school in Canada. I couldn’t help but think of their families. Each of these children was a missing family member, someone who was unable to achieve their goal because forced assimilation policies ended their lives too soon… I cried with the team aboriginal here in Interior, ”said Haaland.
Haaland’s remarks have impressed me all week, because as the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in this country, she understands our pain.
“Our communities are still in mourning,” Haaland continued.
She then announced the creation of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in the United States. The work of the initiative will be enormous. The initiative is tasked with identifying former residential schools across the country and investigating possible burial sites, then identifying those buried and returning the remains to their legitimate tribes. Haaland asked the initiative to submit a written report to its office by April 1, 2022.
Two days later on Thursday, Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of 751 anonymous graves at what was once the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
Although the latest discovery has yet to take place in Canada, investigations into residential schools in the United States are long overdue.
Native Americans have known that there have been graves on residential school grounds for decades. We also heard about physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by those who operated the schools.
We also know the historical traumas inflicted on our communities which have created countless social ills among us.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) has identified 367 historically assimilable Indian residential schools that operated across the country between 1870 and 1970. According to the NABS, the organization was only able to locate records of 38 % of these boarding schools.
Because the records were never fully reviewed, it is still unknown how many Native American children actually attended, died, or disappeared from schools.
NABS supports Haaland’s initiative because the organization believes it is time for truth and healing.
“We have a right to know what happened to the children who never returned home from residential schools,” NABS said in a statement Friday.
There is no doubt that the work of the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative will be difficult. It will be like removing a scab to find out how bad the injury really is.
But with just nine months to get the job done, the initiative may not deliver all of the information that has been buried for decades.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will soon be reintroducing the “Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Residential School Policies” that she presented last year with the representative at the time. Deb Haaland.
The Commission would “officially investigate and document, for the first time in history, the cultural genocide, assimilation practices and human rights violations of Indian residential schools in the United States, in order to study the impact and effects continuing historical and intergenerational trauma in tribal communities. , and to provide a forum for Indigenous victims and families to discuss the personal impacts of physical, psychological and spiritual violence.
On Thursday, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) approved a resolution calling for a federal commission to build on the initiative of the Home Office.
Since taking the oath of office as the 54th Secretary of the US Department of the Interior, Haaland has proven that she is the right person at the right time.
Having a Home Secretary who mourns with her fellow Indigenous peoples and nations offers hope in these dark and painful times. And establishing an initiative to investigate the age of boarding schools may turn out to be the right step towards truth, reconciliation and healing.
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