In June 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive effort to recognize the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impact and to shed light on the traumas of the past.
Under the leadership of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, the Department prepared a report detailing the U.S. law and policy framework of the federal Indian boarding school system and available historical records to develop the first official list of federal Indian boarding school sites and identify associated marked and unmarked burial sites. This report lays the groundwork for the continued work of the Interior Department to address the intergenerational trauma created by policies supporting the historical federal Indian boarding school system. It reflects an extensive and first-ever inventory of federally operated Indian boarding schools, including summary profiles of each school and maps of general locations of schools in current states.
Between 1819 through the 1970s, the United States implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. The purpose of federal Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children by forcibly removing them from their families and Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, and Native Hawaiian Community. Indian child removal coincided with Indian territorial dispossession. The report details the conditions experienced by attendees including manual labor and discouraging or preventing American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural beliefs. While children attended federal Indian boarding schools, many endured physical and emotional abuse and, in some cases, died.
The investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states or then territories, including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. The investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the system. As the investigation continues, the Department expects the number of identified burial sites to increase.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting closures of federal facilities call for further investigation. Assistant Secretary Newland recommends next steps that will be taken in a second volume, aided by a new $7 million investment from Congress through fiscal year 2022.
For more information regarding the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, go to the Department’s priority page.
What You Need to Know
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