TEMPO.CO, Jakarta – An investigation by the United States Department of the Interior into the dark history of boarding schools for Native American Indians found “marked and unmarked burial sites” in approximately 53 schools, Secretary Deb Haaland said Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Dab Haaland, the first Native American cabinet member, announced the investigation last year. In releasing preliminary findings during a press conference in Washington, he spoke in a choked voice and tears welled up in his eyes.
“Federal policies seeking to erase indigenous identities, languages and cultures continue to manifest in the suffering that tribal communities face today,” Haaland said. “We have to explain the unspoken trauma of the past.”
The US government has yet to properly account for the legacy of schools, which use education to change culture so that Indian lands can be forcibly taken. Native American families are also forced to send their children to the special school.
To compile the Haaland report, the researchers found records at 408 schools that received federal funding from 1819 to 1969, and another 89 schools that did not receive government money.
About half the schools are run by the government or supported by the church. Many children are abused at school, and tens of thousands are never heard of again, activists and researchers say.
The report notes that “rampant physical, sexual and emotional abuse” occurs in schools and is well documented, and so far investigations have found more than 500 children died while in school custody. Investigators say they hope to uncover more deaths.
US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. REUTERS/Leah Millis
Haaland said he embarked on a year-long “road to healing” tour to listen to survivors of the boarding school system. The purpose of the investigation is to estimate the number of children attending school, find more burial sites and identify how much federal money goes to churches that take part in the school system, among other issues.
He said Congress had provided $7 million to continue the research this year, which he said was critical to helping Native Americans heal.
Haaland, a former congressman from New Mexico, in 2020 introduced a law calling for a Truth and Healing Commission into former Native American boarding schools. The regulation is still in process.
Next: Canada is acting better than the US