Department of the Interior report details brutality of federal Indian boarding schools

The atrocities committed at boarding schools designed and operated by the federal government to eradicate indigenous peoples were described by the United States Department of the Interior for the first time in a report published Wednesday.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland fought back tears as she described the scope of the investigation which identifies 408 federal Indian boarding schools in 37 states that operated between 1819 and 1969. New Mexico had 43 such schools, the third in the nation behind Oklahoma (76) and Arizona (47).

Grave sites have been found at 53 different schools, but the department will not publicly share the locations due to issues of “grave theft, vandalism and other desecration,” Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland said.

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These schools used “militarized” tactics to assimilate Native American children as young as 4 years old into environments described in the report as fostering “endemic physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; sickness; malnutrition; overcrowding; and lack of health care.

The report also acknowledges that the federal government has used money from the Indian Trust Funds to pay schools – even those run by religious organizations – to take children without parental consent and force them into environments designed to destroy generational bonds. eliminating language and culture.

This means that Native American tribes saw their children robbed while being forced to pay for the abuse aimed at destroying their own existence. These tribal trust accounts held money resulting from cessions of territories in the United States.

Haaland (Laguna) said the report is the first step in addressing the role and responsibility of the US government at this time. She gave no explicit support for financial reparations for the tribes, but also did not rule out the possibility. She responded to a question about restitution by saying that President Joe Biden “fully understands the obligation of the United States to Indian tribes. He fully understands the federal fiduciary responsibility to the tribes.

In the meantime, the next phase of the federal government’s response will be to bring this research to the people and find ways to help heal the generational trauma it has caused by racist and genocidal politics.

“It left lasting scars for all Indigenous people because there is not a single Native American, Alaskan Native or Hawaiian Native in this country whose life has not been impacted by the schools,” said declared Newland (Ojibwe).

Haaland announced that the Home Office would participate in a year-long tour to listen to boarding school survivors and their families engage in discussions about the past. The department is committed to directing people to mental health and spiritual resources to help with healing, she said.

I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of residential school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead. We are uniquely placed to help uncover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for far too long. As a Pueblo woman, it’s my responsibility and frankly it’s my legacy.

– Home Office Secretary Deb Haaland

Haaland discussed the importance of language preservation in an effort to recover from the era of boarding schools. She said her grandmother was forced to attend boarding school when she was 8, which led to her mother’s trauma which disconnected Halaand from her own culture, “I don’t speak my language because my mother was afraid to teach me when we were growing up.”

Reading the details of the report is difficult for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, and it requires a substantial investment in mental health services to support people who may be speaking to this story for the very first time. In April, the Home Office suggested it could work with the Indian Health Service to fund counseling services to help people get therapy on the subject. However, there is no specific financial commitment from Congress at this time to fund such an endeavor.

Halaand said Congress appropriated $7 million to fund the boarding school investigation.

Journalist’s Note

The next few paragraphs will detail some of the issues raised in the survey. I write this to offer you, the reader, an option to stop and pause to read this at your own pace, if you choose to read it at all.

You can also view the full report here.

No nutrition, no consent, no freedom

Most of the boarding school sites were on active or disused military sites. From the beginning, schools were “designed to separate a child from his reservation and his family, strip him of his traditions and tribal mores, force the complete abandonment of his mother tongue and prepare him never to return to his people”. according to the Interior report.

If you are looking for a more eloquent description of the method, here is what Indian Affairs Commissioner William A. Jones wrote in 1902:

“The young of the wild bird, although born in captivity, naturally retains the freedom instincts so strong in the parent and beats the bars to secure it, while after several generations of captivity the young bird will return to the cage after a brief period of freedom. Thus with the Indian child. The first savage Redskin placed in school resents the loss of freedom and longs to return to his savage wooden house. His offspring retain some of the habits acquired These habits receive new development with each successive generation, setting new rules of conduct, different aspirations, and a greater desire to be in contact with the dominant race.

In 1904, the federal government understood the importance of separating families, writing in official documents that “the love of home and the warm reciprocal affection existing between parents and children are among the strongest characteristics of Indian nature” .

In 1928, the Meriam Report examined the condition of Native Americans in the United States and found that “the major disruption of Indian family and tribal relations came from the federal Indian boarding school system”.

The plan worked.

The erasure of children’s cultural identity through abuse was also seen in the conditions of the boarding schools themselves, and studies from the time show that the federal government knew how bad the environments the children lived in were. rancid.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania circa 1890. (Library of Congress Photo)

Reports of school conditions in 1896 showed “three children to a bed” at Kickapoo Boarding School, Kansas. At Rainy Mountain Boarding School in Oklahoma, “single beds are pushed together so tightly to prevent passage between them, and each bed has two or more occupants”. Nutrition was non-existent, as the same report concluded, “the greatest deficiency is in the diet provided to Indian children, many of whom are below normal health”.

When children stepped out of line, they were often whipped, sometimes at the hands of older students, according to the report.

The 1928 Meriam Report also concluded that boarding schools acted de facto as child labor camps, citing a disproportionate amount of time students spent on professional or labor-intensive work instead of actual school work like math or reading.

Even the youngest students were forced into manual labor such as logging, railroads, carpentry, irrigation, well digging, and construction.

The Home Office survey shared the itinerary of a typical school day in 1917 for a first-grader at a boarding school. It shows 110 minutes of learning English, then 20 minutes of drawing, 10 minutes of breathing exercises followed by 240 minutes of “industrial work”.

An example at the Mescalero Boarding School in New Mexico shows that in 1903 Mescalero Apache, “the boys sawed over 70,000 feet of lumber and 40,000 shingles and made over 120,000 bricks”.

When the federal government saw low enrollment, they went into the communities and took the kids. According to the report, “In 1919, it was discovered that only 2,089 of an estimated 9,613 Navajo children were attending school, and so the government initiated an accelerated program of Navajo education.”

These children were sent to boarding schools without their parents’ consent, the Interior Ministry said.

Churches are starting to confront the facts about boarding schools

Church and State

The federal government also circumvented rules regarding the separation of church and state by paying for church-run schools to accommodate Native American students.

A 1908 Supreme Court decision, Quick Bear vs. Leupp, allowed the federal government to use money held in Indian treaties and trust accounts to fund children, “induced or coerced to attend Indian boarding schools operated by religious institutions or organizations”.

The court said paying churches did not violate Indian appropriation laws and “prohibiting such spending would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.”

Further expanding the church’s reach over the tribes, the federal government also gave these organizations lands set aside for Native Americans under treaty laws. The report concludes: “The basic approach of subsidizing various religious groups to operate schools for Indians did not end until 1897.”

Long range

The generational impact of boarding schools will be the next development of historical inquiry, but one thing is clear, the results of the attempted genocide shocked families and communities.

Research on boarding school survivors shows higher rates of chronic health conditions that could be passed on to children. “The heightened trauma faced by men in the Indian boarding school system may have produced increased stress, which can then affect the biological systems of the body,” the report said. “These stressors can then introduce epigenetic alterations which are then passed on to their children, also known as epigenetic inheritance.”

“The children of the first participants of [federal Indian] boarding schools continued to attend, as did their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, leading to an intergenerational pattern of cultural and family disruption under direct and indirect support from the United States and non-federal entities .

James C. Tibbs