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ALBUQUERQUE – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) returned to her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico for a listening session on the 11th stop of The Road to Healing on Sunday. Before serving as Interior secretary, Haaland represented New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, which included Albuquerque in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Her task was different on Sunday. She was there with Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) to hear testimony from survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants. 

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Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland

"I'm so happy to be back home and be with all of you this morning. As we embark on this journey together, it's an honor to join with you on the ancestral homeland," Haaland said.

Sunday’s listening session was one piece of the Interior Department’s collaborative efforts to address the intergenerational impact of federal Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in tribal communities.h e

Among the crowd were various leaders from several New Mexico pueblos. Also in attendance was Tunica-Buloxi Chairman Marshall Pierite,  from Marksville, Louisiana. 

Pierite, who is running for president of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), said he felt it was important to come to hear firsthand the Indian boarding school stories from the survivors and their families.

"It was very important to hear the truth of what happened in these baording schools. I am very proud of Secretary Haaland having these hearings because this is what will begin the healing process," Pierite told Native News Online.

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Tunica-Buloxi Tribe Chairman Marshall Pierite with Stehpanie Poston and Jenni Monet.

On Sunday, Isidore Jaramillo (Isleta Pueblo), 77, recounted his story of attending the Albuquerque Indian Boarding School seven decades later. He told the story of one of the employees of the boarding school who took showers with the boys who attended the school. 

Jaramillo said one evening, the employee invited him, when he was seven-years-old, to his room. The man offered him some wine. 

“He stood up and grabbed me. He started to kiss me and I never was kissed like that before. We fell to the bed and I couldn’t breathe. I tried to get away. Just then, the bell rang. I had to be back to my room for the nightly bed call. He let me go and told me not to say anything about it,” Jaramillo testified. 

“It was the worst experience of my life,” Jaramillo said.

“To this day, I can’t get that event out of my head,” Jaramillo told Native News Online in an interview. “I think about it every day of my life.”

Since July 2022, Haaland and Newland made stops in Anadako, OklahomePellston, MichiganRosebud, South DakotaGila River Indian Community, Arizona; Many Farms, Arizona; Tulalip Indian Reservation, near Seattle, Washington; Onamia, Minnesota; Riverside and Rohnert Park, California; and Anchorage, Alaska.

The final Road to Healing tour listening session will take place in Bozeman, Montana next Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023.

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These stories must be heard.

This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].