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Federal Initiative Aims To Shed Light On Lasting Consequences Of Indian Boarding Schools

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.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced an initiative that will examine the policies of Indian Boarding schools and their effects on Indigenous people living today.

This comes after the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children at a First Nations boarding school in Canada.

In the early 19th Century, the United States government enacted policies to assimilate Indigenous children into white society by forcibly removing them from their homes and communities. The most infamous of which was Carlisle Indian Boarding School in Pennsylvania, where headmaster Colonel Henry Pratt said the goal was to, "Kill the Indian, Save the Man."

Now, the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior is creating the Indian Boarding School Initiative — which will investigate lives lost during the boarding school era that continued well into the 20th century. She said the work won't be easy.

"It won't undo the heartbreak and loss we feel," Haaland said. "But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace."

The Department will work with tribal nations, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives to identify boarding school facilities and possible burial sites near those schools.

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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