In a First, US Assesses Grim Toll at Native American Schools

At least 500, and probably thousands, of children taken from their families died, report says
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2022 7:50 PM CDT
In a First, US Assesses Toll at Native American Schools
Red-painted handprints cover the empty spot at a park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last July where a historical marker for the Indigenous children who died while attending a boarding school nearby was removed.   (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan,File)

For the first time, the federal government has assessed and acknowledged the harm done to Native American children at boarding schools it backed or ran throughout most of the 19th and 20th centuries. A report released Wednesday by the Interior Department said the children were subjected to sexual abuse, whippings, manual labor, and severe malnourishment, Axios reports. The report listed 408 such schools and said about 50 burial sites have been found so far. At least 500 Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children died at the schools, per NBC News, and the Interior Department said the toll could climb into the thousands as its investigation progresses.

The mistreatment took place between 1819 and 1969 during the government's effort to force assimilation as it removed tribes from their lands. Children were taken from their families and forbidden to speak their native languages, per the AP. They were given English names. Some did not return. "Many of those children were buried in unmarked or poorly maintained burial sites far from their Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, the Native Hawaiian Community, and families, often hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away," the report said. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the project last June, prompted by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at sites of former boarding schools for Indigenous children in Canada.

Many of those schools were run by the Catholic Church, and many of the US boarding schools were operated by churches of various denominations. A Native American coalition has welcomed the government's reckoning but cautioned that the federal agency has limited authority. The department's goals include repatriating the children's remains and providing resources to Indigenous communities to help them deal with the lasting impact of the schools' abuses. "Recognizing the impacts of the federal Indian boarding school system cannot just be a historical reckoning," Haaland said Wednesday. Her ancestors were among the abused. (More Native Americans stories.)

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