Report reveals long-buried trauma at residential schools
At least 53 gravesites of Native American children uprooted from their homes and sent to boarding schools mark what federal officials call a ‘heartbreaking’ legacy on display in an early Interior Department report published today.
Interior officials expect the number of burial sites to rise as their investigation continues into the Indian boarding school system, which between 1819 and 1969 encompassed 408 federal schools in 37 states or territories. then, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven in Hawaii.
“The consequences of federal policies on Indian boarding schools, including the intergenerational trauma caused by family separation and cultural eradication inflicted on generations of children as young as 4 years old, are heartbreaking and undeniable,” said today Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
Haaland, the first Native American to lead the Department of the Interior, is personally connected to the issue. She wrote last year: “I am the product of these horrible assimilation policies. My maternal grandparents were taken from their families when they were only 8 years old and were forced to live away from their parents, their culture and their communities until they were 13 years old.
She commissioned the newly published study last June as part of what she called the Federal Residential Schools Initiative (E&E News PMJune 23, 2021).
“This report provides us with the opportunity to reorient federal policies to support the revitalization of tribal languages and cultural practices to counter nearly two centuries of federal policies aimed at their destruction,” the Assistant Secretary of the Interior said. Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland.
Underscoring the poignancy, Haaland and Newland appeared deeply touched and at times on the verge of tears during an early afternoon press conference on the report.
The 102-page volume released today highlights some of the conditions children face in schools.
The investigation says the boarding school system deployed “systematic weaponization and identity-altering methodologies” in an effort to assimilate children.
The schools’ tactics included renaming children with English names; to cut one’s hair; and discourage or prevent the use of their native languages, religions and cultural practices.
The survey also determined that the school system emphasizes manual labor and job skills that left graduating students “with employment options often unrelated to the American industrial economy, further disrupting tribal economies.” .
A follow-up report will include producing a list of marked and unmarked burial sites, estimating total federal funding used to support the boarding school system, and determining the “legacy impacts” of the school system on Native American communities. .
Next steps from the inside will also include estimating the number of children who have attended the schools, assessing student health and mortality, and reconciling any tribal or individual Indian trust funds held by the United States. states that were used to support the boarding school system.
“We need to understand the whole story, the whole story of intergenerational trauma,” said Deborah Parker, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “Our children deserve to be found.”
The report dates the boarding school system to the Civilization Fund Act of 1819, with the largest number of schools located in Oklahoma.
In the 19th century, Congress enacted various laws to compel Native American parents to send their children to school. An 1893 law, for example, authorized the Home Office to withhold rations, including those guaranteed by treaties, from families whose children were out of school.
The intention was to assimilate impressionable young students.
Or, as Indian Affairs Commissioner William A. Jones put it in a 1902 statement highlighted in the new report, “the first savage redskin placed in school resents the loss of his freedom and yearns to return in his wild wooden house. But, Jones added, with time come “new rules of conduct, different aspirations, and a greater desire to be in touch with the dominant race.”
Schools were tough places.
“Boarding school rules were often enforced through punishment, including corporal punishment such as solitary confinement; flogging; withhold food; whip; slaps; and handcuffs,” the report said.
Investigators added that schools sometimes force older children to punish younger ones.
Initial analysis released today indicates that approximately 19 federal Indian residential schools accounted for more than 500 Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian child deaths. As the investigation continues, the Interior expects the number of recorded deaths to rise.