TULSA, Oklahoma – The United Indian Nations of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition hosted a summit that discussed the history and impact of Indian Boarding Schools June 22 at River Spirit Casino Resort.
The summit was called “Breaking the Silence: Seeking Truth, Justice, and Healing from Indian Boarding Schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.” It featured tribal leaders, including Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill and UINOKT Chair Margo Gray.
“There’s 79 federally funded, supported boarding schools in the state of Oklahoma. 93 total Indian boarding schools that were also independently financed.” Gray said. “That was a scheme, that was a plan, that’s horrendous.”
The summit’s purpose was to advocate for a federal commission to analyze the records of over 300 Indian boarding schools in the United States. This would allow tribes and families to get a complete picture of how many children attended boarding school, how many were abused and murdered, and how the trauma of boarding school affected their families.
This comes after discovering a mass grave of Indigenous children buried at the site of a former residential boarding school in Kamloops, British Columbia, in 2021.
A traditional Cedar Ceremony was performed by Louis Gray to bless and cleanse the summit. All members of the audience were invited to purify themselves.
It featured elders who were boarding school attendees and survivors. They openly shared their experiences on a panel. One of the panelists, Louis Gray, shared his experience attending the Albuquerque Indian Boarding School.
“These children were desocialized and withdrawn, ” Louis Gray said. “That was my first experience with understanding that these children were being abused by everybody, by fellow students, by staff, anybody that could get their hands on them.”
The Albuquerque Indian Boarding School was attended by children from the Navajo, Pueblos, Ute, Osage and Apache Tribes. It operated from 1881-1989. According to Louis Gray, some families sent their children willingly, while others were forced or pressured.
“There were a lot of people running away,” Louis Gray said. “I discovered later that they would often end up dead.”
A mass grave of children was rediscovered during the 1970s when the city of Albuquerque built a public park over the cemetery. It is unknown how many children are buried there. Many are still unidentified.
The summit also provided the vision for a national digital archive of Indian boarding schools and contemporary education reform on the topic.
The summit promoted two bills under review by Congress; US Senate Bill S. 2907 and House Bill H.R 5444. Both introduce establishing a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies. The Biden Administration supports legislation on Indian boarding school research.
To learn more about the proposed “Truth and Healing Commission,” visit: https://boardingschoolhealing.org/truthcommission/.
To view prior Mvskoke Media coverage on Indian boarding schools, visit: https://www.mvskokemedia.com/federal-indian-boarding-schools-initiative-announced/.