Interior Department Announces Collaborative Effort to Support Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative
Effort will strengthen information-sharing with National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
December 8, 2021
WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to share records and information in support of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.
“The first step to healing is acknowledging the painful truths of federal boarding school policies and gaining a fuller understanding of their impacts. Today’s action will help strengthen our efforts to gather necessary information and records so that we can unravel the threads of trauma that linger in Indigenous communities,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “As we continue to allow federal boarding school survivors and their families an opportunity to be heard, I am hopeful that we can heal and work together for a future that we will all be proud to embrace.”
“As we move forward with the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, it is important that we collaborate with organizations like the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition to uncover information about the history of the federal government’s operation of these institutions,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “I am grateful for their willingness to help as we work to tell the story of the scale of the impact these schools had on the lives of generations of Indigenous people.”
NABS was incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in June 2012 to develop and implement a national strategy that increases public awareness and cultivates healing for the profound trauma experienced by individuals, families, communities, American Indian and Alaska Native Nations resulting from the U.S. adoption and implementation of the Boarding School Policy of 1869.
“We look forward to working with the Department of the Interior to finally get information to the survivors, descendants, and relatives of those who experienced these schools. We are more than willing to share the independent research that we’ve been doing for nearly a decade because this investigation is finally the start of revealing the truth about this part of American history and beginning the path to healing through understanding for the whole country,” said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) and Citizen of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation.
In June, Secretary Haaland announced the Federal Boarding School Initiative directing the Department, under the supervision of Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, to prepare a report by April 1, 2022, detailing available historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites, relating to the federal boarding school program in preparation for future action.
Today’s MOU commits the Department and NABS to sharing information on their efforts to research, identify, collect, and organize records that could be relevant to the April report.
This may include:
• The location and identification of residential facilities at which Indigenous children received formal academic or vocational training or instruction;
• The location of known or potential student burial sites that may be associated with each facility; and
• The identity and Tribal affiliation of human remains that have been found.
The Department and NABS will establish a schedule of regular meetings for the preparation and sharing of the records and information.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. The purpose of Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities where their American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian identities, languages and beliefs were to be forcibly suppressed. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities.
The work of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is proceeding in several phases, which include the identification and collection of records and information related to the Department’s own oversight and implementation of the former program, and formal consultations with Tribal Nations, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian organizations to clarify the processes and procedures for protecting identified burial sites and associated information. This is in addition to close work with the Indian Health Service to develop culturally appropriate support resources for those who might experience trauma resulting from the initiative.
The Interior Department continues to operate residential schools through the Bureau of Indian Education. In sharp contrast to the policies of the past, these schools aim to provide a quality education to students from across Indian Country and to empower Indigenous youth to better themselves and their communities as they seek to practice their spirituality, learn their language and carry their culture forward.