- Hundreds of thousands of Native kids attending federal boarding schools aimed at assimilation.
- A new Interior report marks the US’s first comprehensive attempt to document the schools.
- The report found 19 schools accounted for 500 student deaths, a number that’s expected to increase.
More than 500 students died while attending one of at least 408 boarding schools for Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian kids that were run or supported by the US government in the 19th and 20th centuries, according to an Interior Department report published Wednesday.
The report marked the first time the US government has attempted to comprehensively research the extent and impact of the boarding schools, which were aimed at assimilating Native children into white society. The schools typically banned students from speaking their native languages or exercising their religions, forced them to cut their hair, and gave them “white” names, among other oppressive practices, Insider previously reported.
The investigative report found 408 schools were operated across 37 states from 1819 to 1969 and attended by hundreds of thousands of Native children. Burial sites were identified at 53 different schools, though the department said in a statement it expects more to be discovered as the investigation continues. Nineteen boarding schools accounted for the deaths of more than 500 children, a number that is also expected to increase, the report said.
The report also found that about half of the federally run schools may have received support from religious institutions, including several Christian churches.
Insider previously spoke with Native leaders and historians about how Native kids were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to boarding schools far away from reservations in an attempt to cut them off entirely from their cultures. Students at the schools were often malnourished, abused, and forced to perform manual labor, findings the Interior also established in its report.
“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 as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in a statement.
“We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face,” she said, adding she also hopes to address “the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal.”
Native leaders and activists have long called for a formal government investigation into the schools. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous cabinet member, announced the investigation last year following discoveries of unmarked graves at Canada’s residential schools for First Nations children.
The Interior said in a statement the report was only the first part of its investigation. Next steps include creating a list of all the marked and unmarked burial sites, approximating the amount of federal funding that went into the boarding school system, and researching the legacy impacts of the boarding schools on Indigenous communities today.
Have a news tip or a personal story to share about the boarding schools? Contact this reporter at [email protected].
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