Federal Boarding School Report A Beginning

Chippewa citizen John Wallette was 20 in 1910 when he left his home on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota and enrolled at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. There he trained as a blacksmith, played left on the school football team, and spent at least three summers on “outings”, working on regional farms.

His parents, Moïse and Mélanie, were delighted to welcome him five years later.

But many other parents who sent their children to boarding schools in the 19th and early 20th centuries were not so lucky. Some children died at school, some died soon after returning home sick, and many simply disappeared, their fate unknown.

Illustration from the cover of the May 1912 edition of the Carlisle Indian School student publication, “Red Man”, by William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz

This week, Native Americans welcomed the first volume of a long-awaited report from the US Department of the Interior that follows a nine-month investigation into federal Indian residential schools.

“The consequences of federal policies on Indian boarding schools – including the intergenerational trauma caused by family separation and cultural eradication inflicted on generations of children as young as 4 years old – are heartbreaking and undeniable,” the Secretary told Interior Deb Haaland in a statement. Wednesday. She expressed hope that this would be the start of a healing process for “Indian Country, the Native Hawaiian community and across the United States, from the Alaskan tundra to the Florida Everglades, and everywhere in between. both”.

FILE - Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a Tribal Nations Summit during Native American Heritage Month, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington.

FILE – Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a Tribal Nations Summit during Native American Heritage Month, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington.

native reaction

“It’s really personal to me,” said Wallette’s granddaughter, Christine Diindiisi McCleave, who admitted to crying while reading the report.

“As a descendant of residential school survivors and former CEO of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), I have worked for six years trying to stand up for truth, justice, and healing. I feel like this report is very encouraging for survivors and descendants to have this recognized by the Department of the Interior and the federal government,” she told VOA.

NABS, a nationally recognized non-profit organization, worked with the DOI for months to develop the report. In a statement on Wednesday, NABS CEO Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state, called the report’s release a “historic moment” that reaffirms the stories Native Americans grew up with and the “huge tortures” suffered by elders and ancestors. in these schools.

Preliminary findings, detailed by Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland in the 106-page report, show that between 1819 and 1969 the federal government “operated or supported” 408 boarding schools in 37 states or former territories, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii. Previously, NABS had only 367 schools.

So far, investigators have found marked and unmarked graves at 53 schools and counted 500 student deaths, but the DOI predicts the death toll could ultimately reach “thousands or tens of thousands”. The report does not say how the children died or who was responsible; VOA previously reported that many had died of infectious diseases that thrived in crowded school dormitories.

A map of Federal Indian Residential School sites identified by the Department of the Interior's Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative.  Source: Appendix C, Volume 1 of the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative Inquiry Report

A map of Federal Indian Residential School sites identified by the Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative. Source: Appendix C, Volume 1 of the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative Inquiry Report

The report confirms that schools have used “systematic militarized and identity-altering methodologies” in their efforts to Americanize Indigenous children, giving them English names, banning their languages ​​and cultural practices, and organizing children in units to train like soldiers.

Former Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray, whose great-grandfather Henry Roan also attended school in Carlisle, says the report is a good first step, but there is still work to be done. TO DO.

Carlisle Indian School studio portrait of Henry Roan, Raymond Buffalo Meat and Thomas Perrier, ca.  1900

Carlisle Indian School studio portrait of Henry Roan, Raymond Buffalo Meat and Thomas Perrier, ca. 1900

“The policy at the time was ‘kill the Indian and save the man,'” he told VOA via Facebook. “The discovery of unmarked graves around these schools testifies to the fact that this policy was cruel and a complete failure. This country needs to acknowledge this disaster and stop pretending it didn’t happen and stop trying to whitewash its long-term impacts of generational trauma.

Sunny Red Bear is a Lakota from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota and Director of Racial Equity at the NDN Collective, an Indigenous-owned advocacy group based in Rapid City, South Dakota. She said that although she welcomed the report, it was only the first step on the long road to recovery.

“The children are not at home,” she said. “I think they need to be brought home, and we really need to get answers, because that’s a big part of our history as Indigenous people – the erasure of our culture, our languages , of our stories. You really have to get to the bottom of things. »

Looking forward

Secretary Haaland this week announced the launch of “The Road to Healing,” a year-long tour across the United States to give Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian survivors of the federal Indian residential school system a chance to share their stories, to help connect communities with trauma-informed support and start working on collecting a permanent oral history.

On Thursday, the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States held a legislative hearing on a bill that would establish a Truth and Healing Commission to study the impacts and ongoing effects of federal policy on Indian schools, on the model of a similar commission in Canada.

If passed, HR 5444, sponsored by Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids, an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, would establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the historical and current impacts of forced courtship. boarding schools. . The commission would also work on ways to protect unmarked graves, support the repatriation of children’s remains and identify the countries from which they were abducted.

Additionally, the legislation would prevent state social services, foster care and adoption agencies from removing Indigenous children from families and communities, a practice still prevalent in states across the country.

NABS is asking people who attended boarding school or are descended from boarding school students to submit written testimonials to the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources by May 26.

Nohemi M. Moore