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Friday, June 24, 2022

Sec Haaland, other leaders testify at U.S. Senate about boarding schools report and investigation

 


Interior Sec. Deb Haaland vows to continue to investigate U.S. Indian boarding schools and support healing efforts for tribal communities impacted by intergenerational trauma caused by the schools.

Many students faced physical, mental, spiritual and sexual abuse. And, many students did not make it back home.

Sec. Haaland testified Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on the findings of her federal Indian boarding school initiative, which she announced last June.

A report released in May found there were 408 schools across the U.S. from 1819 to 1969, and about 53 marked or unmarked burial sites identified.

Boarding school policies focused on cultural assimilation, and the forced removal and relocation of Native children.

Sec. Haaland says as the investigation continues, the next step is to gather testimony, find support for healing, and resources for language and culture initiatives.

“I recently announced we will embark on the road to healing, a tour to hear directly from survivors and descendants. A necessary part of this journey will be to connect survivors and their families with mental health support, create a permanent collection of oral histories. We know this won’t be easy, but this is a history we must learn from if we are to heal from this tragic era in our country.”

The hearing also focused on Indian boarding school legislation (S. 2907) to create a commission to help locate and analyze records, and hold culturally appropriate hearings.

Sandra White Hawk, board president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, was among a panel of Native leaders to testify in support of the legislation.

“It will open up wounds, but in order for us to heal we need to air out those wounds and replace them with the medicines that we have within our ceremonies, our songs along with our mental health professionals that can help us as well. Most importantly, what was taken from us our songs, our lifeways that will bring the healing when our wounds are open from that. There was an elder that was one of my teachers and he said we are people that are well acquainted with grief. And, I’ve watched and seen that as we’ve gone into communities and listened to experiences and watched healing take place.”

Senators on the Indian Affairs Committee, including chair Brian Schatz (D-HI), vowed to continue to push the boarding school legislation forward and to help find appropriations.

Click here to read the testimonies or watch the hearing

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Detailed discussion of the Bering Strait theory and other scientific theories about the population of the modern-day Americas is beyond the scope of this essay. However, it should be noted that Indian people have expressed suspicion that DNA analysis is a tool that scientists will use to support theories about the origins of tribal people that contradict tribal oral histories and origin stories. Perhaps more important,the alternative origin stories of scientists are seen as intending to weaken tribal land and other legal claims (and even diminish a history of colonialism?) that are supported in U.S. federal and tribal law. As genetic evidence has already been used to resolve land conflicts in Asian and Eastern European countries, this is not an unfounded fear.

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