Through Levi Rickert
WASHINGTON – The discovery of 215 schoolchildren remains at Kamloops Industrial Residential School in Canada late last month prompted the U.S. Department of the Interior to establish a federal Indian Residential School initiative.
Interior Dry. Deb Haaland made the announcement during her appearance at the 2021 National Congress of American Indian (NCAI) mid-year conference on Tuesday afternoon.
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The initiative will include a survey to identify former residential schools, the location of known and possible burial sites, and the identities and tribal affiliations of the children who were taken there.
Indian Country was quick to embrace the idea.
NCAI President Fawn Sharp released the following statement on Tuesday evening:
“The National Congress of American Indians commends the Home Office for taking the essential first step in providing an official account of the atrocities suffered by Native children during the residential school era. By documenting who, what, when, and where this egregious abuse occurred, Indigenous families may not be able to heal completely, but they may begin to come to terms with the past. Many mothers, fathers, siblings and children of victims and survivors of the boarding school walked without ever knowing the full extent of what happened to their loved ones. But knowledge is power. By learning the truth, we can finally begin to reconcile the past and heal for the future. “
Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, says the initiative is the first step in telling the truth about centuries of forced assimilation and uncovering the lasting, intergenerational impact on Indigenous families.
“A recurring theme in historic US government policies is efforts to assimilate and intentionally separate Indigenous children from their families, identities, languages, cultural practices, and spirituality. In the form of boarding schools and public and private child protection systems, indigenous children have been systematically removed from their families, ”Kastelic said.
The president of the organization also weighed on the initiative.
“While this is hard, long-term, painful work, it is a starting point,” said Gil Vigil, president of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “The Home Office was responsible for the operation of residential schools for over a century. Compiling and making public data on boarding school sites, known and suspected burial sites, and identified remains and tribal affiliations of children is a first step. In consultation with tribal governments, the Home Office can begin the process of healing the large open wound of our missing loved ones.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, the initiative is a way to educate others about the atrocities that native people have suffered. He hopes that uncovering the painful truths about residential schools will lead to a better understanding of society today so that we can work together to heal.
“As the Navajo people, we all have parents, grandparents and other elders who have been subjected to boarding schools and who have contributed to many modern monsters in our society such as suicide, drug addiction and substance abuse, violence in our homes and communities, the physical and mental health of our people, and much more. Our people were forcibly removed from their homes and families, placed in the residential school system, and stripped of their identity as Navajo people and assimilated. Some have been physically, mentally and sexually abused, and unfortunately many have lost their lives. This disturbing story deserves more attention. President Nez said.
The Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative will result in a written report of the investigation to Secretary Haaland in just over nine months by April 1, 2022.
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