Energy & Environment

Haaland announces program to review impact of Native American boarding schools

Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland
UPI Photo

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary, on Tuesday announced an initiative that will review the legacy of federal boarding schools that numerous Native children were forced to attend.

Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in remarks to the National Congress of American Indians’ 2021 mid-year conference. The program, which will be carried out under Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, will assess the impacts of the schools across generations.

The agency head has separately instructed the Interior Department to prepare a report detailing the initiative’s findings, including records on cemeteries or other possible grave sites connected to federal boarding schools. A mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than 200 children was discovered last month at the site of one such facility in Canada.

“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,” Haaland said Tuesday. “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.”

“The stories of survivors and their families are important and it is going to become necessary for them to have an opportunity to tell their stories and put it on the record,” Newland added in his own remarks at the conference.

Federal boarding schools were established to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children to white culture, including forcing them to cut their hair, speak exclusively English and forego their cultural traditions. The slogan “kill the Indian, save the man” was coined by Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

In an op-ed earlier this month for The Washington Post, Haaland described her own family’s history with such schools, including her grandfather, a survivor of the Carlisle school. “We have a long road of healing ahead of us, but together with tribal nations, I am sure that we can work together for a future that we will all be proud to embrace,” she wrote.

Tags Deb Haaland Indian boarding schools Indigenous peoples of North America Native Americans

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