The federal government will investigate its past surveillance of Indian residential schools and work to “uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences” of the policies that, over decades, have forced hundreds of thousands of children to leave. their families and communities, United States Home Secretary Deb Haaland announced this week.
The unprecedented work will include the compilation and review of records to identify former residential schools, locate known and possible burial sites in or near these schools, and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of the students, she said. declared.
“To combat the intergenerational impact of residential schools and promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how difficult it will be,” Haaland said.
A member of the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as Secretary to the Cabinet, Haaland introduced the initiative while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians at the group’s mid-year conference. .
She said the process will be long, difficult and painful and will not resolve the grief and loss suffered by many families.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the country. For over 150 years, Indigenous children have been removed from their communities and placed in assimilationist residential schools.
Haaland spoke about the federal government’s attempt to eradicate tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself in long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature death, mental health problems and addiction.
The decision to investigate past abuse comes amid recent discoveries of mass graves near some of Canada’s largest residential schools.
Indigenous leaders said this week that 600 or more remains were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997 in the province of Saskatchewan. Last month, some 215 remains were reported at a similar school in British Columbia.
In Canada, more than 150,000 First Nations children were required to attend publicly funded Christian schools as part of a program to assimilate them into society. They were forced to convert to Christianity and were not allowed to speak their language. Many have been beaten and verbally assaulted, and up to 6,000 are believed to have died.
After reading about anonymous graves in British Columbia, Haaland recounted his own family story in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.
Haaland cited statistics from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which reported that in 1926, more than 80% of Indigenous school-aged children attended boarding schools run either by the federal government or by religious organizations. In addition to providing resources and raising awareness, the coalition has worked to compile additional research on residential schools and the deaths that many say are sorely lacking.
Home Office officials said that in addition to trying to shed light on the loss of residential school life, they would work to protect burial sites associated with schools and consult with tribes on the best way of doing it while respecting families and communities.
As part of the initiative, a final report from agency staff is due by April 1, 2022.