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Thursday, February 9, 2023

Native Montana Lawmakers Call on State to Recognize Traumatic History of Indian Boarding Schools

A state senator with firsthand experience in American Indian boarding schools has introduced a joint resolution calling on the state legislature to recognize the history of these institutions and the trauma they caused generations of Indigenous people. 

Senate Joint Resolution 6 would also ask the federal government to create a national day of remembrance. 

Sen. Susan Webber, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, is carrying the bill in the state senate. She is joined by Reps. Marvin Weathermax, Jonathan Windy Boy, Tyson Running Wolf, Frank Smith, and Mike Fox. Webber attended Cut Bank boarding school from age 8 through junior high, the Idaho Capital Sun reports

“I wanted to bring this bill, because I, my generation, is the last generation that had to go to boarding school,” Webber said. “We had to go to boarding school. Now I’m not 150 years old. This was still going on in the ‘60s.”

Montana state Sen. Susan Webber

The federal government sent Native children en masse to boarding schools from the late nineteenth century until the late 1960s, in an effort to forcibly assimilate them to white American culture. This practice was one of several national policies that shattered countless Indigenous families for generations, along with taking Native children from their homes and adopting them out to white families. 

The children at these schools were cut off from their families, communities and cultures. Untold numbers of children were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Many died in the schools and were buried in unmarked graves, their families never learning of their fate.  

The resolution, through the recognition of this history, encourages the people of Montana to “support and recognize the grief, pain, and hardship many Native American people suffered and still endure as a result of the assimilationist policies and practices carried out by the United States through Indian boarding school policies.” 

More than a dozen residents testified in support of the resolution at a recent hearing, where it went unopposed. 

The horrific history of Indian boarding schools is a current focus of the federal government, with the nation’s first Indigenous Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, leading the effort. 

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and a descendant of people impacted by the boarding schools, launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, described as “a comprehensive effort to recognize the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impact and to shed light on the traumas of the past.”

The ongoing investigation has already discovered unmarked graves of children at the sites of nearly 20 schools and has accounted for the deaths of more than 500 children. 

Haaland kicked off a “healing tour” in July, traveling across the country to pray with and gather testimony from hundreds of boarding school survivors and their families.

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