In the United States, the United States tries to find the graves of the Indian residential schools | Indigenous rights news


San Francisco, CA – Phil Smith’s parents dropped him off at the Charles H Burke Indian School in New Mexico when he was five, in 1954.

A member of the Navajo Nation, Smith attended boarding school just outside the country’s borders for a year, before moving to other similar schools in the United States.

He spoke the Navajo language when he arrived, but was taught that “it isn’t good, it’s not useful, (and) you just have to learn English,” Smith’s daughter Farina explained. King, who shared his story with Al Jazeera.

As a result, Smith did not teach King or his siblings the Navajo language. “And then I’m not learning Navajo, and I’m placed in this very difficult position where I’m the one who has to do this reconnection work,” she said.

Hundreds of schools

In 1927, the Office of Indian Affairs, an agency of the federal government, converted old army buildings at Fort Wingate, about 210 km (130 miles) west of Albuquerque, into a school for Navajo and Zuni children.

In the 1860s, the ancestors of Navajo students were forced to walk in what is known as the “Long March” to Fort Sumner, where they were confined. A third is dead disease and starvation.

According to a researcher who visited the Charles H Burke Indian School in 1927 as part of an investigation into residential schools in the United States, a Navajo girl died of tuberculosis on the morning of her visit.

In The Meriam Report, an investigation into the living conditions of Native Americans across the country, Lewis Meriam wrote that school “was as painful as any place I have visited.”

The U.S. government has operated at least 367 schools (PDF) like this – institutions of forced assimilation that aimed to exterminate Indigenous language and culture, according to the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. The United States operated 25 of these schools and supported hundreds more that were run by churches, most often the Catholic Church.

Federal investigation

In June, following the discovery of hundreds of graves of Indigenous children at Kamloops Indian Residential School in western Canada, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland ordered a federal task force to investigate on school graves.

It was then that King said she realized that she exists today because her father and her ancestors outlived the institutions.

“In the United States, there has to be genuine recognition at all levels of the critical masses – not only from the top to the bottom of government, but how do we get Americans from all walks of life and all walks of life to understand the significance of that? said the king.

Now the search for missing children and graves has started in the United States. Native American communities have long known that graves existed at the sites of former residential schools, and they have borne the brunt of the trauma of survivors for generations.

In July, the remains of nine Lakota children who died at the government-run Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania were returned to their families.

Earlier this month, the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition – the group that pushed the government to release residential school records for six years – announced it would work with the Home Office on its investigation.

The department is now consulting with indigenous communities, including tribal governments, Alaskan indigenous societies and Hawaiian indigenous groups, on key issues to be included in its report, a spokesperson wrote in an email. The consultation will also lay the groundwork for future work on the site to protect potential graves.

“Topics discussed include appropriate protocols for handling sensitive information in existing cases, potential repatriation of human remains, and management of former residential school sites,” the spokesperson wrote.

The task force is expected to submit a report by April 1 of next year.

“They most certainly have graves”

The schools, which operated from the late 1800s to the 1970s in the United States, were part of a policy that forced Indigenous peoples to leave their lands and settle on reservations. In an 1892 wordUS Army officer Richard Pratt, who founded one of the first schools, described the policy as: “Kill the Indian in him and save the man.” “

The American system inspired Canada’s similar network of so-called “residential schools”; in an 1879 report, Nicholas Flood Davin, then Minister of the Interior of Canada advised Canada adopts the Indian residential school system from the United States.

From 2008 to 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada collected the testimonies of 7,000 survivors of the institutions. The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement compensated students who attended 139 schools in Canada. An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children passed through the system, and the commission estimated that 6,000 children died in schools from disease, starvation, abuse, fires and others. causes.

Christine McCleave, CEO of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, told Al Jazeera that she hopes the U.S. task force, along with a bill in Congress to establish a truth commission, will allow the government American to hear the testimony of survivors, in the same way as what happened. in Canada.

The United States had at least twice as many schools as Canada, so McCleave said she believed at least twice as many Indigenous people went through institutions. She also predicted that the U.S. government would likely find out that most schools have graves associated with them.

“If they were open at the turn of the century, then they most definitely have graves, because there was a high rate of student deaths from tuberculosis and influenza – preventable diseases,” she said. declared.

The Canadian commission has declared the schools a cultural genocide, and McCleave wants a similar statement from the United States. “Anyone can look at the United Nations definition of genocide and see that the United States has done all of these things to the indigenous people of this country. “

Research protocol

Marsha Small, a researcher from North Cheyenne, conducted an investigation in 2019 using multiple scan tools that found a total of 222 graves at the site of the former Indian School in Chemawa, Oregon.

That total included 210 graves associated with the residential school, Small said, while community members unrelated to the residential school era were also buried in the cemetery.

Small asked survivors about the harsh punishments at school; one person said his father still had scars after being whipped in Chemawa, Small told Al Jazeera. “They were really concentration camps, they were really prisons,” she said of the schools.

It was genocide, she said. “It is an eradication of our people.

Together, Small and King develop protocols for how to respond when graves are discovered in residential schools. King said he shared these protocols with the Navajo Nation.

When remains are found, they likely came from multiple nations, and each nation has different protocols for how to respond to graves, Small said. Some countries want the use of ground penetrating radar, while others do not want their children to be disturbed in any way. “They could be buried right next to each other,” she said.

Meanwhile, McCleave and Small are also calling on the federal government to establish a crisis line for survivors of the institutions. “The bandage has been ripped off, the scab is exposed, ripped off, and now it’s a raw sore,” Small said.

The Home Office told Al Jazeera that India’s federal health services are working with indigenous leaders to develop culturally appropriate resources to support those who may experience trauma as a result of the task force’s investigation.

McCleave said she hopes the April report will specifically mention schools with which graves are associated. “I see this as a very promising start on a long road ahead of truth and healing,” she said.


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