The Lead

U.S. Interior Dept. research into the history of abusive Native American boarding schools should be released in the coming weeks

By: - March 19, 2022 6:30 am

U.S. Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images).

By Shaun Griswold

The U.S. Department of the Interior is expected to begin releasing information next month from its investigation into federal boarding schools and their impact on Native American communities.

Students Samuel High Bear and Guy (Bear Don’t Scare) working at the bakery. This is a posed photo of them loading loaves of bread on a wheelbarrow outside the bakery (Source:Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center).

Secretary Deb Haaland said the department is close to completing its research into boarding school sites and the location of possible burial sites “at or near school facilities,” and that the research identifies “the tribal affiliations of children interred at those locations.”

Haaland (Laguna) announced the investigation into the nation’s boarding school history in June and wrote an op-ed saying the earliest era especially caused generational trauma for Indigenous people.

During a press call celebrating her one-year mark running the Interior Department, Haaland stressed the importance of ensuring support for people uncovering the traumatic past caused by the federal government.

“We have been very cognizant of the fact that we need to create a safe space for people to share information and seek resources,” she said. “We recognize that this is a very traumatic experience for many people. We want to make sure that folks have the resources that they need to get through this.”

Boarding schools started with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819. “The purpose of Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities,” according to the Interior Department.

Native American students at the Carlisle Indian School, circa 1899 (Image via the Library of Congress/Corbis Historical Collection/VCG via Getty Images/The Conversation).

For more than 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities to experience a school system where they were abused for speaking traditional language or practicing ceremonial customs.

In Pennsylvania, Native American children travelled on trains, thousands of miles from their homes, to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Cumberland County in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many had been forcibly taken from their parents and communities, the Capital-Star previously reported.

Once there, they had to hand over their belongings, put on uniforms, cut off their braids, adopt new names and abandon their languages and cultural practices.

Under teachers in charge of assimilation, the children studied English and memorized the U.S. presidents. The rest of the time, they worked on the school grounds or on assignments in neighboring towns.

Some tried to run away. Some married. A few, like Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, had renowned sports careers.

Thousands of students from more than 140 Native American tribes attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in its 39 years in operation in southern Pennsylvania. Opened in 1879, it was the first government-run, off-reservation boarding school for Native Americans.

A federal investigation seeks to uncover the painful history of Native American boarding schools in Pa., nationwide

Some students never came home, the victims of disease and poor health care, lost to their families. Last yeara, the Army began disinterring from a military cemetery the remains of 10 children who died between 1880 and 1910 while attending the Pennsylvania school, returning them to their relatives for burial.

The Interior Department is on track to meet its April 1 deadline to get a report on the history to Secretary Deb Haaland’s desk.

“I look forward to getting the draft of the report,” she said.”Once I have that in hand, we can move on to next steps, which I believe will be next month. So stay tuned.”

Shaun Griswold is a reporter for Source New Mexico, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared. Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story.

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