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Interior Department, National Endowment for the Humanities Partner to Preserve Federal Indian Boarding School Oral History and Records

$4 million will support the digitization of records and creation of a permanent oral history

WASHINGTON — The Department of the Interior and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) today announced a new inter-agency partnership to expand the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative through the collection of oral histories and digitization of records documenting the experiences of survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies. NEH has committed $4 million to support the digitization of records from the United States’ system of 408 federal Indian boarding schools and the creation of a permanent oral history collection, documenting the experiences of the generations of Indigenous students who passed through the federal boarding school system.

The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is an ongoing, comprehensive effort by the Interior Department to recognize the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impact and shedding light on the traumas of the past.

“Federal Indian boarding school policies have touched every Indigenous person I know. Deeply ingrained in so many of us is the trauma that these policies and these places have inflicted. This is the first time in history that a U.S. Cabinet Secretary comes to the table with this shared trauma, and I’m determined to use my position to help communities heal,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “This is one step, among many, that we will take to strengthen and rebuild the bonds within Native communities that federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break.”

“The policies of the federal Indian boarding school system have had a profound and lasting impact on Native communities,” said NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo). “The first step toward addressing the intergenerational consequences of these schools is to squarely acknowledge and examine the history of a federal system intended to separate families, erase Native languages and cultures, and dispossess Native peoples of their land. NEH is proud to join with the Department of the Interior in this important effort to shed light on this chapter of our country’s history.”

Creating a permanent oral history program on the history of federal Indian boarding schools has never before been undertaken by the U.S. government and is a resource that has been requested by Indigenous communities. The Department’s oral history project will ensure stories and experiences that survivors share can be understood and learned from for future generations.

In May 2022, Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released Volume 1 of the investigative report called for as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. The report represented a significant step by the federal government to comprehensively address the facts and consequences of historical federal Indian boarding school policies, which resulted in the twin goals of cultural assimilation and territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples through the forced removal and relocation of their children. Volume 2 is expected to be published by the end of 2023.

As part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Secretary Haaland launched “The Road to Healing.” This year-long commitment to travel across the country is giving Indigenous survivors the opportunity to share their stories and be connected with trauma-informed support. NEH’s Chair Lowe has joined Interior Department staff at several stops on “The Road to Healing,” including this week’s event on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington State. The oral history project will build on this effort to create space for survivors. Details regarding the facilitation of this effort will be released in the coming weeks.

In addition to NEH’s direct support for the Interior Department’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, NEH will also fund related humanities programs—including scholarly research, convenings, and educational programs—that further public understanding of the history and impact of the federal Indian boarding school system. This funding builds upon previous NEH-supported work such as the Heard Museum’s Away From Home permanent exhibition of American Indian boarding school stories, and the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project, which is digitizing and transcribing government records, photographs, oral histories, and other historical materials documenting the experience of Native American children who attended the Genoa U.S. Indian School in Nebraska between 1884 and 1934.

 

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