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On National Day of Remembrance, U.S. Department of Interior announces consultation with tribal nations on Federal Boarding School Initiative

Library of Congress
A postcard showing boys and girls, wearing uniforms, in front of Indian School in Cantonment. Cantonment was a former Army post constructed on the North Canadian River, five miles northwest of present Canton, Okla. in Blaine County.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced Thursday it will begin consulting with Tribal Nations as the next step in their Federal Boarding School Initiative. It's part of the process to be more transparent in the handling of the troubled legacy of federal boarding schools.

In June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Federal Boarding School Initiative after thousands of unmarked graves were found at the Kamloops and others residential schools in Canada. Haaland is directing the department to comb through historical records to find potential burial sites at federally run boarding schools in the United States.

Established in 1879, the Carlisle Indian Boarding school, which was operated under General Henry Pratt's infamous and insidious motto, "Kill the Indian, Save the Man," enrolled more than 10,000 Indigenous children from more than 140 tribal nations.

Haaland invited Tribal leaders in a letter sent on Thursday to provide feedback to the department on the next phase of the work. Haaland wants input on addressing cultural concerns and sensitive information contained in some of the records as well as compliance with the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, when returning remains to tribal nations.

Consultations with tribal nations will happen on Nov. 2 and a final report on the initiative is set for April 2022.

“Tribal consultations are at the core of this long and painful process to address the inter-generational trauma of Indian boarding schools," said Haaland in a statement.

The next phase of this initiative was announced on a National Day of Remembrance for those who survived the boarding school system, which has long been viewed as a tool of the United States government to eliminate tribes and Indigenous people altogether. Hundreds of survivors, advocates, and tribal leaders took to social media wearing orange in honor of Orange Shirt Day, or National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, that honors survivors of the residential school system. Many wore shirts that read, "Every Child Matters."

Oklahoma Congressman and Chickasaw Citizen Tom Cole (R), Kansas Congresswoman and Ho-Chunk citizen Sharice Davids (D) and Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts introduced a bill to establish a Truth and Healing Commission on Boarding School Policies in the U.S. The commission calls for 10 members that would be appointed by the president, members of congress and those in the Senate.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are expected to meet with tribal leaders this fall in a summit. Boarding schools and their lasting effects and intergenerational trauma will be on the list of topics to be discussed.

According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, Oklahoma was home to 83 boarding schools, including Chilocco Indian Agricultural School, which remained open until the 1980s.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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