Native American children at the US’s 408 federal Indian boarding schools suffered whippings, sexual abuse, manual labor and severe malnourishment between 1819 and 1969 as part of the American government’s campaign to compel their assimilation, according to a report released Wednesday by the Interior Department.
The big pictures: Interior Secretary Deb Haaland authorized an investigation into the US’s Indian boarding school system after the discovery of Indigenous children’s remains at an old Canadian residential school site renewed attention on Americas’ history of genocide against Indigenous peoples. The probe has since identified marked or unmarked burial sites at roughly 53 different schools.
Details: The federal residential school system was founded as part of an effort to eradicate Indigenous languages and cultures.
- “Federal records indicate that the United States viewed official disruption to the Indian family unit as part of Federal Indian policy to assimilate Indian children,” the report notes.
- Initial research shows that hundreds of Indigenous children died throughout the school system. The continued investigation is likely to reveal the actual number of deaths to be in the thousands or tens of thousands, the report notes.
The systematic “identity-alteration” methodologies” employed by federal Indian boarding schools included:
- Forcing Native American children to use English names
- Cutting their hair
- Requiring standard uniforms
- Barring cultural and religious practices as well as use of Native languages
These rules were often enforced through punishments that took the form of solitary confinement, whipping, withholding food and slapping.
- The provision of care was “grossly inadequate.” The Interior identified several “well-documented” instances of physical, sexual and emotional abuse; disease; malnourishment; overcrowding; and lack of health care.
- Manual labor was also a common feature — in 1903 at the Mescalero Boarding School in New Mexico, Mescalero Apache boys sawed over 70,000 feet of lumber and made upward of 120,000 bricks.
- Many Native American children tried to escape but were found, brought back and punished, according to the report. The damage had long-term health effects.
Worth noting: “The deaths of Indian children while under the care of the Federal Government, or federally supported institutions, led to the breakup of Indian families and the erosion of Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, and the Native Hawaiian Community,” the report states.
- “The Department must fully account for its role in this effort and renounce forced assimilation … as a legitimate policy objective.”
What they’re saying: “The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies—including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication affected upon generations of children as young as 4 years old—are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Haaland said in a statement.
- “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.”
What to watch: Haaland announced Wednesday the launch of a yearlong tour across the US that will allow survivors of the boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories and connect with trauma-informed support.
- The document released Wednesday is volume one of the investigation, which will continue under Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland.
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