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Arizona House Democrats have signed onto a bill asking the Department of the Interior take a closer look at former Indian boarding school grounds in their state.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, notes that Arizona has been home to the second-most Indian boarding school facilities in the nation at 51, second only to Oklahoma at 83.

Those boarding school numbers are based on preliminary research conducted over the past ten years by the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Representatives from the coalition say that the Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is likely to find more schools and with that, more cemeteries holding childrens’ remains.

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The primary goal of the initiative, announced in June by Secretary Deb Haaland in an effort to shed light on the dark history of the Indian Boarding School System, is to identify boarding school sites; the location of known and possible student burial sites located at or near school facilities; and the identities and tribal affiliations of children interred at such locations, via a report due to be released in April.

It is unclear how exactly the Department of the Interior will engage with each state’s tribal populations after the report is released. By taking action now, Jermaine and the Arizona House Democrats aren’t willing to wait to see what and how the federal initiative will include them.

Jermaine told Native News Online via email that, outside of the federal investigation, an investigation into former boarding school grounds in the state “is an issue we have been talking about and working on for four years,” she wrote. “We have done legislative proclamations for the last three years and a formal request to DOI this year.”

“We have not received updates on the federal investigation or the proposed timeline for the 51 Arizona based campuses,” Jermaine said. “Many of our MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples) cold cases date back to the boarding school era and families believe there are ties to their missing loved ones.”



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Jenna Kunze
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Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 U.S. journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as lead reporter at the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.