WASHINGTON – The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative was announced June 22 by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to vigilantly review the harsh actualities of federal boarding school policies in lieu of the recent discovery of unmarked graves located at residential schools in Canada.
“The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” Secretary Haaland said. “I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
A memo was released along with the announcement from Secretary Haaland that directs the Department of Interior to prepare a detailed report of available historical records that include an emphasis on cemeteries and potential burial sites related to boarding schools for future work on the sites.
The site work will be under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs.
“We must shed light on what happened at federal Boarding Schools,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland said. “As we move forward in this work, we will engage in Tribal consultation on how best to use this information, protect burial sites, and respect families and communities.”
The initiative will function as an investigation regarding the loss of Native American children and the lasting consequences of Indian boarding schools.
The main goal will be to identify boarding school sites, the location of known and possible burial sites, and the identities and Tribal affiliations of children buried at such locations.
Data compiled by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition at one time concluded that there were a total of 357 schools across the United States and 64 remain open today. Data claims there was once a total of 78 schools in Oklahoma.
According to the Muscogee Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Manager RaeLynn Butler, there has been no formal request made from the Department of Interior to begin work on this project.
Butler said the department owns equipment for detecting possible unmarked graves called ground-penetrating radars and will be prepared to investigate sites on the Muscogee Reservation when a request comes.
During the Inter-Tribal Council Meeting in early July, the Five Civilized Tribes met and discussed the topic.
The ITC passed a resolution in support of the initiative.
This can be viewed at http://www.fivecivilizedtribes.org/Docs/Resolutions/2021/ITC%20R21-25.pdf.