US Launches Effort to Document History of Indian Residential Schools


US Launches Effort to Document History of Indian Residential Schools

WARNING: This story depicts abuse at residential schools.


The US government is embarking on an effort to record the oral histories of survivors and descendants of boarding schools that sought to “civilize” indigenous students, often through abusive practices.


The Department of the Interior announced Wednesday a partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities to document the experiences of thousands of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students in federally funded schools across the country.


The National Endowment for the Humanities is contributing $4 million to the project.


“The first step in addressing the intergenerational consequences of these schools is to fully acknowledge and examine the history of a federal system aimed at separating families, erasing native languages ​​and cultures, and dispossessing native peoples of their lands,” National said. Endowment for the Humanities. President Shelly Lowe said in a statement. Lowe is Navajo.


The endowment has supported other efforts, including a permanent exhibit on boarding schools at the Heard Museum in Phoenix and a project to digitize and transcribe records at the Genoa Indian School in Nebraska.


Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who is a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, has made it a priority to publicly examine the trauma caused by schools. The department released a one-of-a-kind report listing 408 federally supported schools. The religious and private institutions that ran many of the schools received federal funding and were willing partners in assimilating indigenous students.


The United States enacted laws and policies in 1819 to support schools, most of which have long closed. None yet exist to strip students of their identities.


Victims and survivors of government-backed boarding schools have been sharing emotional stories during a “Road to Cure” tour hosted by the Department of the Interior. They remember that they were locked in basements as punishment, that their hair was cut to erase their identities, and that they were physically and mentally mistreated.


The Department of the Interior found in the first volume of an investigative report on boarding schools that at least 500 children died in some of the schools, though the number is expected to rise dramatically as the investigation continues. A second volume is expected by the end of the year, the agency said.


The tour has made stops in Oklahoma, South Dakota, Michigan, Arizona, the Navajo Nation, and most recently in Washington on the Tulalip Indian Reservation.


The oral history collection is an extension of the tour and comes at the request of indigenous communities, Haaland said. It will ensure that future generations can learn from those stories, she said in a statement. “This is one step, among many, that we will take to strengthen and rebuild the ties within Native communities that federal Indian boarding school policies were intended to break,” Haaland said.


Support is available to anyone affected by their residential school experience or by the latest reports.


A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been established to provide support to survivors and those affected. People can access crisis and emotional referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.


Mental health counseling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness Hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or online chat at


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