By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – A Home Office investigation into the dark history of Indian boarding schools found “marked or unmarked burial sites” at some 53 schools, Secretary Deb Haaland said on Wednesday.
Haaland, the first Native American cabinet member, announced the investigation last year.
A former congresswoman from New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary, Haaland in 2020 introduced legislation calling for a truth and healing commission under the conditions of former Indian boarding schools. This legislation is still pending.
“The consequences of federal policies on Indian boarding schools … are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Haaland said in a statement. “My priority is not only to give voice to survivors and descendants of federal residential school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so that Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal. »
Conditions at former Indian residential schools drew worldwide attention last year when tribal leaders in Canada announced the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Children’s Residential School, as these institutions are known in Canada.
Unlike the United States, Canada conducted a full investigation of its schools through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Until Wednesday, the US government had yet to provide a true account of the legacy of these schools, including never acknowledging how many children attended them, how many children died or went missing or even how many schools existed.
For more than 150 years, Native American children in the United States were forcibly removed from their tribes and sent to such schools beginning in 1819 in an effort of forced assimilation.
Schools were run by the US government or by churches closely tied to the government. Scores of children were abused in schools and tens of thousands have never been heard from again, activists and researchers say.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas)