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500 Kids Killed at Indian Boarding School: Report

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Indian Boarding School: According to a highly anticipated Interior Department report released Wednesday, at least 500 Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children died while attending Indian boarding schools. Over 400 schools were identified and more than 50 gravesites were discovered in the report.

It is the first time in American history that the government has attempted to comprehensively research and acknowledge the horrors it inflicted on Native American children for decades. The report does not provide details about how the children died or who was responsible. It falls well short of some independent estimates of deaths. Additionally, the report sheds little light on the physical and sexual abuse Indigenous children endured during their time in the schools, which operated from the early 1800s until the present day.

Despite acknowledging the harms caused to Indigenous children in the report and news release that accompanied it, the federal government does not offer an apology to tribal leaders that they have repeatedly requested for decades. When Pope Francis visits Canada this summer, First Nation officials are asking him to apologize personally for the role the Roman Catholic Church played in boarding schools there.

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At their boarding school forced boarding schools, Deb Haaland’s grandparents were both only 8 years old, she told reporters on Wednesday. They weren’t the only children who did not return home. The children are all missing members of their families, people who are no longer here to fulfill their purpose because they died as part of this shameful system,” Haaland said, holding back tears.

Children play at an Indian boarding school in Kickapoo, Kansas in an undated photo. (Corbis via Getty Images)
Children play at an Indian boarding school in Kickapoo, Kansas in an undated photo. (Corbis via Getty Images)

More than 500 child deaths were identified through the review of the records of 19 of the facilities, a small percentage of the total number of schools surveyed. A number of deaths are expected to increase as the investigation continues, the Department states. Many estimates place the number in the tens of thousands.

Preston S. McBride, an Indian boarding school historian and a Comanche descendant, says the United States has no idea how many Indian students passed through these schools. The number of student deaths that McBride has found at the four former boarding schools he has studied is more than 1,000, and he estimates there could be as many as 40,000.

He said that all schools had cemeteries. “Visibly every single boarding school has fatalities.”

In his review of historic records, including letters written by students, parents, and administrators, McBride concluded that the deaths were caused by everything from illness to abuse. According to McBride, the true number would require a great deal of research and time. I think it’s a long road to travel.

Approximately tens of thousands of Indian children died at Federal Indian boarding schools, the report observes.

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The report was primarily compiled by Indigenous staff from the Department of the Interior, including the investigation’s lead investigator Bryan Newland, who is a citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe).

Using their work, he said, they have helped place the Indian boarding school system into historical, legal, and policy perspective

“It is exhausting and emotionally draining for them every day to confront this horror to bring this information to you,” he said at the news conference, pausing several times for reflection. Native Americans are left with lasting scars as a result of this trauma. “These schools have affected the lives of thousands of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians in this country.”

Syndication: Lansing State Journal (via USA Today Network)
Syndication: Lansing State Journal (via USA Today Network)

Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland, a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community (Ojibwe), who led the investigation, said that the department employed mostly Indigenous staff to develop the report.

According to him, their research has helped place the Indian boarding school system in its historical, legal, and policy contexts.

To bring you this information, it has taken an exhausting and emotional effort,” Newland said at the news conference, pausing several times to collect himself. He added, “All of us have been left with painful scars as a result.”. “These schools have affected nearly every American Indian, Alaskan Native, or Native Hawaiian in this country.”

Congress could change this with two measures. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, proposed bills to create a truth and reconciliation commission on Indian boarding schools, laying out a framework for how the government can respond to tribal nations and citizens adversely affected by government policies.

A memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia on July 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press via AP)
A memorial outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia on July 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press via AP)

Hearings on the legislation will be held by the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, and survivors can submit testimony until May 26.

Sam Torres, deputy CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, said survivors have been waiting for an apology from the U.S. for a long time. It is imperative that action is taken when it does come, he said.

In order to lay the foundation for opening up pathways towards healing, the federal government must be willing to hear the truth, to hold itself accountable, and to lay down a foundation of truth and accountability.”

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