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Interior Secretary announces investigation into America’s Indigenous boarding schools

Deb Haaland, one of the first Native Americans ever elected to Congress has launched an investigation into American Indian boarding schools.

Interior Secretary announces investigation into America's Indigenous boarding schools
The 2018 visit of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Tuba City Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It is the largest school in the Bureau of Indian Education system. Source - Department of the Interior. National Business Center. Administrative Operations Directorate. Public Domain
The 2018 visit of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to the Tuba City Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It is the largest school in the Bureau of Indian Education system. Source - Department of the Interior. National Business Center. Administrative Operations Directorate. Public Domain

Deb Haaland, one of the first Native Americans ever elected to Congress and President Joe Biden’s newly appointed secretary of the interior, has launched an investigation into American Indian boarding schools.

CTV News Canada is reporting that in a memo last week, Haaland wrote: “The department shall undertake an investigation of the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools.”

“Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace.”

According to The Guardian, Haaland publically announced the review on Tuesday last week in remarks to the National Congress of American Indians during the group’s midyear conference.

These Native American girls were taking a sewing class at the Cushman Indian School on the Puyallup Reservation in June of 1918. Photo by Marvin Dement Boland. Source- The Tacoma Public Library, Accession number 42\36177.jpg, In the Public Domain.

CTV News points out that rarely do developments on Canadian soil prompt such rapid, dramatic policy decisions in the U.S. It was just a matter of weeks between May 22, when the graves of 215 children were found at a former residential school in British Columbia, and Haaland’s announcement on June 22.

Haaland has directed the department to prepare a report detailing available historical records relating to the federal boarding school programs, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites.

It is hard telling what Haaland’s investigation will turn up, especially in a country where Indigenous issues are seldom considered front-page news.

In 1894, the Federal government pressured Hopi Indians to abandon traditional ways and send their children to American boarding schools. The Hopi resisted. Nineteen Elders were arrested by the army and jailed on Alcatraz for almost a year. Image by TradingCardsNPS, under CC SA 2.0.

“There is a reckoning happening,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a prominent U.S. Indigenous activist and lead counsel for the North Dakota-based Lakota People’s Law Project.

“They don’t teach this in schools — not in Canadian schools, not in American schools — that there are mass graves of children at church-run, government-sponsored residential schools and boarding schools.”

“And now we’re no longer able to hide from those truths.”

Haaland acknowledged that her own ancestors had “endured the horrors” of boarding schools and their policies, which were carried out by the department she now leads, reports CNN News.

“The same agency that tried to eradicate our culture, our language, our spiritual practices and our people,” she added.

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Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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