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US finds 500 deaths at Native American boarding schools so far – Boston News, Weather, Sports

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A unique federal study of Native American boarding schools, which spent over a century trying to assimilate Indigenous children into white society, has so far identified more than 500 student deaths at the facilities, but officials say that this number could increase exponentially as research progresses.

The Interior Department report, released Wednesday, expands the number of schools known to have operated in the United States for 150 years to more than 400, beginning in the early 19th century and coinciding with the displacement of many tribes from their ancestral home Country. It identified the deaths in records for about 20 of them.

The dark history of boarding schools – where children were evicted from their families, forbidden to speak their Native American languages ​​and often abused – is deeply felt across Indian land and across generations.

Many children never returned home, and the Home Office said the number of known student deaths could rise to thousands or even tens of thousands upon further investigation. Officials say the causes were illness, accidental injuries and abuse.

“Each of these children is a missing family member, a person who was unable to live out their purpose on this earth because they lost their lives as part of this horrible system,” said Home Secretary Deb Haaland, whose paternal grandparents were sent to live with as children for several years boarding school

The agency — with the help of many tribal people dealing with their own trauma and pain — has trawled through tens of thousands of boxes containing millions of pages of records. However, accounting for the number of deaths was difficult because records were not always kept.

A second volume of the report will cover burial sites, as well as the federal government’s financial investment in schools and the impact of boarding schools on Indigenous communities, the Home Office said. It has so far identified at least 53 burial sites on or near boarding schools.

The era of boarding schools has perpetuated poverty in indigenous communities, loss of wealth, mental disorders, drug abuse and premature deaths, Haaland said at a news conference on Wednesday, fighting back tears.

“Recognizing the impact of India’s federal boarding school system cannot just be a historical reckoning,” she said. “We also need to find a way forward to address these legacy issues.”

Haaland, who is Laguna, announced an initiative last June to examine the troubled legacy of boarding schools and uncover the truth about the government’s role in them. The 408 schools their agency identified operated in 37 states or territories, many in Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico.

The Home Office acknowledged that the number of schools identified could change as more data is collected. The coronavirus pandemic and budget constraints have hampered some research over the past year, said Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Home Office.

Some of the boarding schools were run directly by the US government. Catholic, Protestant, and other churches operated others with federal funds, supported by US laws and policies designed to “civilize” Native Americans.

The Home Office report was prompted by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former school sites in Canada, evoking painful memories for Indigenous communities.

Haaland also announced Wednesday a year-long tour for Interior Department officials that will allow former boarders from Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages and Hawaiian Native communities to share their stories as part of a permanent collection of oral histories.

“It is my priority not only to give a voice to the survivors and descendants of the Indian federal boarding school policy, but also to address the lasting legacies of this policy so that indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal,” she said.

Conditions for boarding schools in the US and Canada were different. While some former students reported positive experiences, the schools often subjected children to military discipline and had their long hair cut.

Early curricula had a heavy focus on outdated job skills, including housework for girls.

Tribal leaders have urged the agency to ensure that any child remains found are properly treated and returned to their tribes if desired. The locations of the burial sites will not be made public to avoid disturbing them, Newland said.

Determining the whereabouts of deceased children was difficult as records were not always kept. Ground penetrating radar has been used in some locations to search for remains.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which prepared an early inventory of schools, said Interior’s work will be an important step for the US in considering its role in schools, but noted, that the authority of the agency is limited.

Later this week, a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives will hear testimony on a bill to create a truth and healing commission modeled on one in Canada. Several church groups support the law.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed, or redistributed.)

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https://whdh.com/news/us-finds-500-native-american-boarding-school-deaths-so-far/ US finds 500 deaths at Native American boarding schools so far – Boston News, Weather, Sports

Nate Jones

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