Haaland directed the investigative report to be conducted as a part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, announced in June 2021.

The report was compiled with records on all the schools that received federal funding from 1819 to 1969, many of which were supported or run by churches of a variety of denominations, Reuters reports, as well as an additional 89 schools that operated without government funding.

The investigation found that many of the children were severely abused in at least 19 of the residential schools. “The provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate. Rampant physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; disease; malnourishment; overcrowding; and lack of health care in Indian boarding schools are well-documented,” the report reads.

In all, at least 500 American Indian children died while in a boarding school’s care, but records are incomplete. This number is expected to increase as the investigation progresses.

“Each of those children is a missing family member, a person who was not able to live our their purpose on this earth because they lost their lives as part of this terrible system,” Haaland said. 

Both survivors and descendants of survivors of Native American residential schools detailed their experiences for the report.

Congress has authorized $7 million to continue the investigation of the schools; this funding will allow investigators to identify more records, planning documents, enrollment records, maps, and photos, to name a few.

According to Reuters, the Interior Department has found over 98 million pages of documents connected the boarding schools with the American Indian Records Repository, and much of that information still needs to be recorded, as well as millions more pieces of information from the National Archives and Records Administration.

“The Federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate” Native and Indigenous people, the report found.

Some of these specific methods included:

(1) renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; (2) cutting hair of Indian children; (3) discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices; and (4) organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.

Bryan Newland, the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs at the Interior Department, who heads the investigation, says, “These conditions included militarized and identity alteration methodologies—on kids!”

In 2021, both Haaland and Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation for a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies.

“The commission must develop recommendations on ways to (1) protect unmarked graves and accompanying land protections; (2) support repatriation and identify the tribal nations from which children were taken; and (3) discontinue the removal of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children from their families and tribal communities by state social service departments, foster care agencies, and adoption agencies,” a summary of the bill reads.

“It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal,” Haaland said.

Hearings on the bill are scheduled for Thursday House of Representatives Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, Reuters reports.


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