Government identifies more burial sites connected to Native American boarding schools, 500 children among the dead. More are likely to be found.
WASHINGTON, DC, (WPTA) - The U.S. government acknowledged more burial sites linked to a network of boarding schools for Native American children. The sweeping report from the Interior Department was made public on Wednesday.
Officials identified more than 400 schools that were used to assimilate Native children into white society. Several dozen of those properties were found to host burial sites of children who died while forced to attend the schools. Many of the graves were unmarked or in terrible condition.
The boarding schools were in operation from 1819 to 1969 and were used as part of a two-pronged strategy to take land from Indigenous people while erasing their culture.
“The Federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to the following: (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,” officials said in the report.
Two boarding schools were operated in Indiana. One was in Rensselaer and another in Wabash. Officials from the Department of Natural Resources are investigating graveyards on the grounds of those former schools to understand how many Native children may have died at the respective facilities.
Across the country, the federal government has put the number of deaths among children in the boarding schools at 500, but officials said they believe that number could be in the tens of thousands. Efforts are underway to identify graves and the remains in them.
The report highlights what tribal communities have known for generations, but is seldom taught to non-Native school children: that the federal government ripped Indigenous families apart and placed their children in schools where they were subject to physical abuse, indoctrination, cultural suppression and death.
The U.S. government directly operated some of the schools, but it also paid churches to operate many as well. The report cited historic documents indicating the church members on staff were ill-trained or equipped for the job as the tired to “civilize” the children who suffered greatly in the program.
“The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies—including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old—are heartbreaking and undeniable,” said Interior Secretary Deb Halland in a statement.
The department announced plans to continue the investigation into the boarding schools, while launching new efforts to aid tribal nations. That work includes interviewing the remaining boarding school survivors, revitalizing Indigenous languages and memorializing the victims with a federal monument.
“We have begun working through the White House Council of Native American Affairs on the path ahead to preserve Tribal languages, invest in survivor-focused services, and honor our obligations to Indigenous communities. We also appreciate the ongoing engagement and support for this effort from Members of Congress and look forward to continued collaboration,” Halland said.
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