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Native American children suffered brutal treatment at US boarding schools, federal report says

Tens of thousands of Native American children were removed from their communities and forced to attend boarding schools where they were forced to change their names, they were starved and whipped, and did manual labor between 1819 and 1969, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior investigation.

In the 408 federal Indian boarding schools in 37 states or territories that Native American children were required to attend, children and adolescents were forced to assimilate into Western culture. These boarding schools have been supported for more than a century by the United States government as well as religious institutions, according to the report.

The Department has also identified marked and unmarked gravesites at approximately 53 schools in the federal Indian residential school system and expects to find more. According to the initial analysis, about 19 federal Indian residential schools accounted for more than 500 Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian child deaths, and the number is expected to reach into the thousands or tens of thousands, according to the report.

“It’s nothing new for us. This is not new to many of us as Aboriginal people. We have been living with the intergenerational trauma of federal policies on Indian residential schools for many years,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet post. What’s new is the current administration’s willingness to respond to longstanding demands by Native Americans to acknowledge and document what happened in public schools, she added.

The Department of Interior investigation also identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 schools in the federal Indian boarding school system and expects to find more. Based on the initial analysis, about 19 federal Indian residential schools accounted for more than 500 Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian child deaths, and the number is expected to rise, the report said.

“My maternal grandparents were only 8 years old, they were robbed from their parents’ culture and community and forced to live in boarding schools until they were 13,” the secretary told Interior Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo member. in New Mexico. at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Many children like them have never returned home. Each of these children is a missing family member, a person who was unable to live out their purpose on this earth because they lost their bodies to this terrible system.

The deaths of Native American children in these boarding schools resulted in the erosion of Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages and the native Hawaiian community, according to the report.

“Lasting scars for all indigenous peoples”

The report is the first discovery made public after Haaland commissioned a federal residential schools inquiry last June following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

“Federal Indian Residential Schools have a lasting impact on Indigenous peoples and communities across America. This impact continues to influence the lives of countless families, from the breakdown of families and tribal nations to the loss of languages ​​and cultural practices,” said Bryan Newland, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. “It left lasting scars for all Indigenous peoples,” he said.

The department reviewed its own records for the initial investigation and found that approximately 50% of federal Indian boarding schools may have received support or involvement from a religious institution or organization, including funding from the infrastructure and staff.

Funding for some of these boarding schools could also come from tribal trust accounts, some of which were based on proceeds from the ceding of Indian lands to the United States, according to the report.

Grim look at life inside schools

Poor living conditions, brutal punishments, child labor, vocational education and forced assimilation were the common threads that the survey revealed in the boarding schools.

Schools would force Native American children to use English names instead of their names, cut their hair, and prohibit or discourage the use of their native language.

“Our kids had names, our kids had families, our kids had their own languages,” said Deb Parker, executive director of the National Native American Boarding School Association.

“Our children had their own insignia, their prayers and their religion before the residential schools violently took them away,” she said.

The punishment used in boarding schools was often brutal, according to the report. The system used solitary confinement, flogging, withholding food, whipping and slapping as forms of discipline. Schools also sometimes made older children punish younger ones, the report said.

Boarding schools also relied on students to do manual labor during school hours, such as herding cattle and poultry, chopping wood, making bricks and working on the railway system for boys and cooking and sewing clothes for girls. Once students exited the boarding school system, they were ill-prepared to join the mainstream economy and the job market by pursuing college or careers, which negatively impacted Native American communities economically. according to the report.

The impact of the boarding school system is still present, according to the report. In addition to the trauma and poverty the boarding school system has caused to Native American communities, survivors of the system are more prone to serious health problems, according to studies from the National Institutes of Health. The studies found that adults who attended boarding schools were three times more likely to have cancer, twice as likely to have tuberculosis, and more than 80% more likely to have diabetes compared to people who didn’t. had not attended these schools.

The department will continue to investigate the impact of the boarding school system, but meanwhile Haaland and his team have encouraged the protection of Native American children and families, investing in cultural revitalization so children can learn their languages. and cultures of origin, and by defending the Indian Child Welfare Act passed. in 1978 to safeguard the rights and welfare of Native American children.

“This is the time when we can speak the truth and honor our loved ones,” Haaland said.

“It’s a time to honor our residential school survivors, loved ones, and the children who still ask themselves these questions and ask themselves: “Where is my grandfather? Where is my aunt? What happened to our family? We deserve this response.