Forced assimilation of Native American children: ‘Our history has been hidden — the attempted genocide of our people’

Forced assimilation of Native American children: ‘Our history has been hidden — the attempted genocide of our people’

Brandi Morin writes:

“The U.S. has some internal searching inside that we have to do as a collective,” says Deborah Parker. The CEO of the Native American Indian Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) — a network of Native academics, researchers, tribal leaders, boarding school survivors and their descendants working to establish a Congressional Truth Commission — Parker, 52, is at the helm of the efforts to expose the damages inflicted by the insidious 150-year program.

The purpose of the commission, Parker explains, would be to thoroughly investigate the losses that occurred through this violent genocide. To date, there has never been a full accounting of the number of children forced to attend these schools in the United States (between 2007 and 2015, there was a $72 million investigation into similar schools in Canada), or the number of children who were abused, died, or went missing from them. The commission would also examine the long-term impacts on the children and their families and hold subpoena power over churches, organizations, and the federal government to hand over records from the former boarding schools. Parker helped write the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, which was originally introduced in Congress in September 2021 and she hopes could pass by the end of this year.

“Once the bill is introduced [during this session] then we really have to hit Washington, D.C.,” Parker says. “We need tribal leaders. We need a lot of folks to really help push this bill. Then those records will need to come forward and be examined by the commission, who will draft their recommendations to the Senate and House and to the President. From there, we will see what’s recommended for the U.S. to be holding themselves accountable.”

A driving force behind that push is Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. The first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in June 2021, which comprises both an extensive investigation by the Department of the Interior into such schools and a “Road to Healing” tour, a series of public hearings where she and other government officials listen to survivors and families recount their stories.

The first report issued as part of the investigation was released in May 2022. It documented 408 federal Indian boarding schools that operated across 37 states or then territories, including 21 schools in Alaska and seven schools in Hawaii. Marked and unmarked burial sites of children who didn’t make it out alive were found at approximately 53 different schools. The department expects the number of identified burial sites to rise.

“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 — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Haaland said in a press release that accompanied the report. “We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face. 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.” [Continue reading…]

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