- By Darren Thompson
When Assistant Secretary of Interior Bryan Newland presented the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report to the public on Wednesday, May 11, it made news headlines throughout the world.
For the first time in history, mainstream media reported the U.S. federal government admitted that it funded and supported Indian boarding schools, and that Indian boarding school separation of children from their families has resulted in abuse, intergenerational trauma, loss of language, culture, identity, land, and death for perhaps tens of thousands of Indigenous children, and more.
“This report is devastating and important,” tweeted Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan on May 11. “We have a responsibility here in Minnesota – and across the country – to understand the impact the boarding schools had on our families and to take action.”
An enrolled citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Flanagan also tweeted, “Too many do not know about this painful chapter in our history. It is time to tell the whole truth and address the impact federal boarding schools have had in Native communities – the link to disparities in health, education, child welfare, and many others.”
The announcement the federal government admitted that it operated boarding schools that have contributed to what survivors refer to as genocide and historical trauma struck deep for Indian boarding school survivors and many others.
“It’s historic and monumental,” Jodi Archambault, Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota, told Native News Online. “I would challenge anyone to find the United States talking about federal Indian boarding schools.”
Archambault previously served President Barack Obama’s Administration as the White House Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and wrote several speeches and presentations for the president and his administration.
“I tried to put material [on boarding schools] in speeches and tried to get the president to mention them,” Archambault said of her attempts to have former president Barack Obama discuss federal Indian boarding schools when applicable. “Every time we put language in a statement, the Department of Justice asked us to remove the content.”
She recalls only several mentions of boarding schools during her tenure at the White House, and none of them were televised.
The federal government admitting it was wrong comes with consequences, though, said Archambault. “The biggest component of this [admittance] is liability,” she said. “Now people can sue the federal government and will have a very big purse to pursue.”
The investigation into federal Indian boarding schools was directed by U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland on June 22, 2021, after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at former residential schools in Canada last June. Since last June, there have been more than 1,000 unmarked graves found at Indian residential schools in Canada.
Organizations, governments, municipalities, leaders, and mainstream media are publicly discussing federal Indian boarding schools and the impact it has had not only on the country, but the survivors and their families.
“The federal and state governments of the United States have dealt tremendous loss and suffering to the Native and Indigenous people throughout generations, including the horrific and systematic erasure of their culture and their children,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee in response to the report. “It is difficult to confront such hard truths about our past, but it is necessary for healing and progress. Washington state stands ready to do what we can to acknowledge the trauma and harm these schools caused, and uplift the efforts of those who fight to ensure the many Tribal languages, cultures and knowledge persist and flourish.”
Over the years, many boarding schools have stopped operating and facilities have been demolished, burned by fire, or their records have been lost leaving it difficult to search for accurate accounts of who attended the schools and where children who died while attending the schoold were buried.
“It is good news to hear that federal Indian boarding schools are being investigated at such a high level,” said American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council Co-Chair Lisa Bellanger to Native News Online. “There is an intense amount of work that needs to happen to bring our children home.”
The American Indian Movement is organizing a fire on May 28 in honor of the 215 Indigenous children who were found in unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian residential school in Canada on May 28, 2021. “We want to call for people across Turtle Island to go to a local boarding school site and light a small fire in honor and memory of the boarding school children,” said Bellanger.
“We will light a fire at the Pipestone Boarding School at 6 p.m.,” said Bellanger.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has a full listing of boarding schools and locations on their website.
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