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KOSU is committed to being more reflective of the audiences we serve. In Oklahoma, having stories reported by Indigenous reporters for Native communities is imperative.

KOSU's Allison Herrera will be on 'Notes from America with Kai Wright' on Sunday, May 7, and we want to hear from you

This Sunday, May 7 at 5 p.m. CT, I have the privilege of joining Notes from America with Kai Wright to talk about reporting on the federal government's examination of the federal Indian boarding school system.

I hope you can join us for this important conversation, where we will discuss what we've heard from survivors of these schools and the modern day impact they've had on families and children within Native communities in Oklahoma and beyond.

In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter. Legal experts, child welfare advocates and tribal citizens call it the "gold standard" of child welfare.

Last fall, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments inBrackeen v. Haaland, a case that could decide the fate of ICWA. The case comes from a couple who argue it's a race-based law that violates the rights of non-Native parents by excluding them from adopting Native children.

Tribal leaders, Native parents and those who work to protect the law say it's necessary to prevent the breakup of Native families. Those concerns started when many Native children were taken from their homes and put into federal Indian boarding schools, and continued with the U.S. Department of Interior advocating for Native children to be adopted by white families in the 1960s.

Robyn Bradshaw, a White Earth Ojibwe citizen and grandmother I interviewed for the podcast This Land, was able to adopt her granddaughter after she was placed in a non-Native foster home in Minnesota. Bradshaw wrote an op-ed last month explaining how much this law meant to her.

"If the court rules [ICWA] unconstitutional, it will not only prevent family reunifications like my own — it will tell tribes that we do not have a right to our own children, and that our political sovereignty which Congress has recognized for centuries is no more," she wrote for The Imprint.

An opinion in the Brackeen case is expected to be released before the end of June, when the court recesses.

One of the biggest reasons for the 1978 law is the policy around federal Indian boarding schools, where children were deliberately taken from their families and sometimes placed far from home. Oftentimes, these experiences were full of abuse and harsh punishments. The ultimate goal was to strip Native children of their language and culture.

Until last year, there had never been a formal reckoning or accounting of these schools. In 2021, newly appointed Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) created the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative after mass graves were found at a residential school in Canada. That initiative resulted in an in depth report that admitted Interior's role in creating schools to take Native children to make them assimilate into white culture in order to take their land.

Haaland and Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland then embarked on a listening tour called "The Road to Healing," where they met and talked with survivors about what happened to them at these schools.

Indian Boarding School survivor Ray Doyah reads poetry as Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland sit in the background, on Saturday, July 9, 2022, in Anadarko, Okla.
SecDebHaaland / Twitter
Indian Boarding School survivor Ray Doyah reads poetry as Secretary Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland sit in the background, on Saturday, July 9, 2022, in Anadarko, Okla.

The first stop was in Oklahoma, which had the largest concentration of federally-run Indian boarding schools, with 76 in total.

Survivors came from all over the state – in buses and on their own – to the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko. Those who couldn't be there sent messages through relatives or tribal leaders. One person said, "It was 12 years of hell."

It was an emotional experience that has stayed with me as I report on Indigenous Affairs here in the state.

Boarding schools are not isolated to the United States. In Canada, survivors gave testimony during that country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which lasted from 2008-2015. The process is similar to "The Road to Healing" listening tour.

We want to hear from you during this hour. What does reparations for survivors of these schools look like? Is it settlement money? Is it giving the land where boarding schools were located back to tribal nations? Is it a memorial or a formal apology?

Tell us what you think. Give us a call at 844-745-8255, email us at news@kosu.org, or leave a voice message here.

We hope to hear from you.

Tune into Notes from America with Kai Wright this Sunday, May 7 at 5 p.m. CT on KOSU.

Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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