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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Announces Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

Sec. Deb Haaland
Secretary Deb Haaland

The Department of Interior is creating an historic record of Indian Boarding Schools. It’s an open wound that is still felt as a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children were found in British Columbia, Canada, and the remains of 10 children were discovered at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. 

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She addressed the Department of Interior’s path forward regarding the troubling legacy of the U.S. Government’s Indian Boarding school policy during the National Congress of American Indians Mid Year Conference. 

“Today I'm announcing and sharing with you all first that the department will launch The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative at no time in history, have the records or documentation of this policy been compiled or analyzed to determine the full scope of its reaches and effect,” said Haaland. 

Haaland says the truth must be told about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of these schools. 

“This investigation will identify passporting school facilities and sites, the location of known impossible burial sites located at or near school facilities and the identities and tribal affiliations of children who were taken there,” said Haaland. “I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won't undo the heartbreak and loss that so many of us feel, but only by acknowledging the past, can we work toward a future that we're all proud to embrace.” 

At its height, the United States had 367 Native American boarding schools with 25 of them being in South Dakota. Today, 73 schools are still open and fifteen of those are still boarding schools. 

“I couldn't help but think of their families,” said Haaland. “Each of those children is a missing family member, a person who was not able to live out their purpose because forced assimilation policies ended their lives too soon. I thought of my own child who carries this generational trauma with them. I thought of my grandmother who told me about the pain and loneliness she endured when the trains to curl away from her family to boarding school. I worked with the Indigenous members of our team here at Interior. Our communities are still mourning the federal policies that attempted to wipe out native identity, language and culture, continue to manifest in the pain our communities face, including long-standing intergenerational trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance of indigenous people, premature deaths, mental disorders, and substance abuse. But now for the first time, this country has a cabinet secretary who is Indigenous.” 

There are at least 50 Native American children that perished at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School, now known as Sioux San. A memorial site is currently in the works to honor and remember them.