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Thursday, October 5, 2023

AG Ferguson creates Indian boarding schools Truth & Reconciliation Tribal Advisory Committee


OLYMPIA, Washington — Following the National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools on Saturday, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today the five members of his office’s Truth & Reconciliation Tribal Advisory Committee.  The committee will study how Washington state can address the harms caused by the government’s historical role in the shameful legacy of Indian boarding schools.

The National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, also known as “orange shirt day,” is observed on Sept. 30 to raise awareness about residential boarding schools.

The five new members of Ferguson’s Truth & Reconciliation Tribal Advisory Committee will hold public listening sessions across the state over the next year to begin a two-year journey toward uncovering the full history of Indian boarding schools in Washington.

“These schools are not just a shameful part of our history — the trauma they caused reverberates through generations of Indigenous families,” Ferguson said. “This week, we do more than just observe the National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools. With this new committee, we start a long but essential journey toward healing.”

“We are grateful for Washington state’s leadership in not only investigating its role during the Indian boarding school era, but also its willingness to promote healing for survivors,” said Deborah Parker (Tulalip), CEO of The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “We need other states to follow suit and work with Tribes and Native communities to bring the truth about this dark history to light.”

During the 2023 session, the Legislature directed the Attorney General’s Office to convene the Tribal Advisory Committee to study boarding schools in Washington through a truth and reconciliation model. The committee’s five members must be citizens from federally recognized tribes in diverse geographic areas across the state. They must also either have personal, policy or specific expertise with Indian boarding school history and policies, or have expertise in traditionally and culturally appropriate truth and healing endeavors.

The Truth & Reconciliation Tribal Advisory Committee members are:

  • Edward Washines (Yakama). 
  • Tamika LaMere (Anishinaabe enrolled with the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Montana).
  • Rebecca Black (Quinault). 
  • Abriel Johnny (Tlingit and Cowichan First Nations).
  • Diana Bob (Lummi).

The committee had its first meeting on Sept. 26. The Tribal Advisory Committee will hold the first of its public listening sessions around the state in January 2024.

The shameful legacy of Indian boarding schools

In May of 2022, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative released an investigative report detailing more than 400 boarding schools across 37 states, including Washington, between 1819 and 1969, that were part of the federal Indian boarding school system. 

The schools “deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children.” Tactics employed at the schools included:

  • Renaming Indian children with English names
  • Cutting childrens’ hair
  • Discouraging or preventing the use of their languages, religions and cultural practices
  • Organizing Indian children into units to perform military drills and forcing them to perform manual labor
  • Corporal punishment, including solitary confinement, whipping and more

The Department of the Interior estimates that the number of Native children who died while at federal Indian boarding schools could number in the thousands or even tens of thousands. Many of those children were buried in unmarked or poorly marked burial sites far from their tribal lands.

The report identified 15 boarding schools in Washington. However, this does not account for all schools and institutions — such as asylums and orphanages, for example — that targeted American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children in the pursuit of a policy of cultural assimilation. In August, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition released research that identified 17 Indian boarding schools in Washington state, which included two schools that did not show any evidence of federal support. The Tribal Advisory Committee will build on this knowledge to study the full extent of the impacts of boarding schools and other cultural assimilation practices in Washington state.

The committee will submit a report in 2025 that, among other goals, delivers recommendations on how the state can address the harm done by Indian boarding schools and other cultural and linguistic termination practices through a truth and reconciliation model.

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