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Interior officials testify in Congress about Indian boarding schools

 Albuquerque Indian School in 1885.
National Archives
Albuquerque Indian School in 1885.

News brief

From 1819 to 1969 the U.S. government forced Indigenous children into 408 federal boarding schools to assimilate them into white culture.

Interior Department officials and others told Congress Wednesday about their findings in an ongoing investigation into the schools. And they voiced support for a bill to establish a commission that would further investigate the era.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says by 1926 nearly 83% of Indigenous school-age children were attending such schools.

“I often wonder what it would be like to come from a place with no children — this is what was imposed on our people,” La Quen Náay Liz Medicine Crow said at the congressional hearing. She’s the president of the First Alaskans Institute.

She added, “Could you imagine having your own children taken?”

The first report described the physical, psychological and sometimes sexual abuse the children endured. It also listed at least 53 marked and unmarked burial sites.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland says the next volume of the Interior’s federal boarding school investigation will address the actual number of students and the names of those buried at the schools.

Haaland, of the Pueblo of Laguna, recounted how schools stripped these children of their culture through abuse. Her mother’s hands were beaten with a rubber hose every time she spoke her Indigenous language — Keres.

“You can see how easily [sic] it would be to have generations of non-native speakers because the parents are worried about the future of their children,” Haaland said.

Her testimony and those of tribal leaders support federal efforts to revitalize these languages.

Haaland said she supports the passage of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat. It would further investigate the federal boarding schools, hold public hearings and develop recommendations on the issue.

Interior’s first report outlined the number of federal schools across the country through 1819 to 1969. Some of the states with the most boarding schools are in the Mountain West.

Arizona had the second-highest number of schools at 47 and New Mexico had the third-highest at 43. Montana had 16 federal boarding schools, Utah had seven, Idaho and Wyoming had six, and Colorado had five.

Oklahoma had the most federal boarding schools at 76.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 KUNM. To see more, visit KUNM.

Emma Gibson