US examines dark history of residential schools


The federal government will investigate its past surveillance of Indian residential schools and work to “uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences” of the institutions, which over decades have forced hundreds of thousands of children from their homes. families and communities, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland said on Tuesday.

The unprecedented work will include the compilation and review of decades of records to identify former residential schools, locate known and possible burial sites in or near these schools, and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of the students, a t she declared.

“To combat the intergenerational impact of residential schools and promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we need to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how difficult it will be,” Haaland said.

A member of the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as Secretary to the Cabinet, Haaland introduced the initiative while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians at the group’s mid-year conference. .

She said the process will be long, difficult and painful and will not resolve the grief and loss suffered by many families.

Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and policies to establish and support residential schools across the country. For over 150 years, Indigenous children have been removed from their communities and placed in assimilationist residential schools.

Haaland spoke about the federal government‘s attempt to eradicate tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself in long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature death, mental health problems and addiction.

The recent discovery of the remains of children buried at the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school has heightened interest in this disturbing legacy in both Canada and the United States.

In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their language. Many have been beaten and verbally assaulted, and up to 6,000 are believed to have died.

After reading about anonymous graves in Canada, Haaland told the story of his own family in a recent opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

Haaland cited statistics from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which reported that in 1926, more than 80% of Indigenous school-aged children attended boarding schools run either by the federal government or by religious organizations.

In addition to providing resources and raising awareness, the coalition has worked to compile additional research on residential schools and the deaths that many say are sorely lacking.

Interior Ministry officials have said that in addition to trying to shed light on the loss of residential school life, they will work to protect burial sites associated with schools and consult with tribes on the best way of doing it while respecting families and communities.

As part of the initiative, a final report from agency staff is due by April 1, 2022.

Chuck Hoskin Jr., senior chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, which had about 80 residential schools, called the announcement encouraging and said anything that could be done to address these “troubling chapters of history Was a positive thing.

“I hope we don’t uncover horrific incidents like the ones that have been discovered in Canada. I just think it’s okay in this country to have conversations about what happened to Native American children,” said Hoskin.

Navajo Nation President Nez also offered his support for the initiative, noting that discrimination against Native Americans continues today on many fronts – from voter suppression to high numbers of missing and murdered people.

“Last week Congress and President Biden established ‘Juneteen’ as a national holiday, in commemoration of the end of slavery, which I fully support as a way to heal the African American community,” Nez said. “Now, from my perspective as a Navajo, there are so many atrocities and injustices that have been inflicted on Native Americans for hundreds of years to the present day that also require national attention, so that American society in general is more informed and able to understand the challenges we face today. “

This is not the first time that the federal government has attempted to recognize what Haaland called a “dark story.”

Over two decades ago, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover apologized for the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse committed against children in off-reserve schools. Then, in 2009, President Barack Obama quietly signed some sort of apology that was buried deep in a multibillion dollar defense spending bill; the language had been watered down from the original legislation introduced years earlier.

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