DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
Indigenously Illustration | Earthguide / Univ. of California, iStock, Carlisle Indian School Digital Resources
Only recently, the legacy of Federal Indian boarding schools was a national secret everywhere, that is, but in Indian Country. Now such truths – about the violence, the rapes, the orchestrated plan to seize Indigenous lands – has many Americans grappling to understand such
tucked-away atrocity. Instead of discounting the deaths of Native children at these schools, there is now an investigation underway in search of more graves, more bodies, and yet, even more details. “It has taken generations for us to get to this point of public truth and accountability,” said Deb Parker, the Tulalip policy advocate leading a coalition of survivors and
descendants on a historic reconciliation campaign that spans nearly two centuries. But such reach for closure and healing can only be met with more answers.
The Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland released a report this week that effectively makes the case for future probing. The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report is some 100 pages of insider analysis driven by his legal background, his former role as a tribal chairman, and more distinctly, his direct ties to boarding school survivors. A citizen of the Bay Mills Indian Community in Michigan, Newland spoke of the personal toll of carrying out a coordinated examination of these
schools, an assignment ordered last June by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “It’s been an exhausting and emotional effort to confront this horror on a daily basis,” Newland said at a press conference upon announcing his findings, Wednesday. But if such hardships were reflected anywhere, it was in his deeply reported overview which dropped just enough below victimization to bring fresh focus to perhaps one of the most ruthless and overtly racist plans ever plotted – a twin policy
first idealized by Thomas Jefferson: Indian territorial dispossession by way of Indian assimilation, or better stated, by way of outright extermination. It’s a depressing saga, and Newland, Haaland, Parker and so many others who were weepy on Wednesday were right to be depressed about it.
The emotional burden of the Federal Indian boarding school system has long been understood, though the finer details of the colonial framework is lesser known, particularly in the role education played in the seizure of tribal territories. At the end of treaty-making in 1871,
which also marked a period of economic recovery after the Civil War, Congress passed a slew of desperate education laws designed to permanently break-up Native families – what would then advance the twin policy objective. As many as 150 land cession treaties carried education clauses. The later pacts such as the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty between the U.S. and the Oceti Sakowin (the Great
Sioux Nation), read more like a mandate: “In order to ensure the civilization of the Indians entering into this treaty, the necessity of education is admitted.”
Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland releases his report on Federal Indian boarding schools, Wednesday, at the Interior
Department. Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
Newland emphasized that such education agreements were weaponized on Indigenous Peoples, and not by government terrorism alone but paired with an unprecedented relationship with organized religions. Treaty funds from land cessions made with Native nations were largely used by the federal government to try and erase tribes through a network of boarding schools, many led by churches.
“For example, between 1845 and 1855, while over $2 million was spent on the Federal Indian boarding school system, Federal appropriations accounted for only 1/20th, of $10,000 per year, of the sum, with Indian trust fund monies supplying the rest,” the report
It is the first time the federal government has officially examined and listed these schools: 408, across 37 states (or then territories), and comprising a total of 53 burial sites at 19 schools, though more graves are likely to be detected. And there is more work to do. Congress
has appropriated $7 million to continue the investigation and two bills in the House and the Senate aim to deliver a full inquiry into the Federal Indian boarding school network akin to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. That process resulted in the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history – $1.9 billion in reparations. But what justice might look like for U.S.
survivors and descendants of Indian boarding schools remains unclear. Unlike Canada, there is no legal recourse due to statute of limitations in place here in America.
Appendix C, Federal Indian Boarding School Maps Department of Interior
Already, there’s pushback. The day after the Interior released its report, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples hosted a hearing to address HR 5444, the proposed legislation seeking to form a truth commission which would also hold unique authority to subpeona institutions such as churches to access private records. “That might be adversarial to the goal of healing,” said Rep. Jay Obernolte, the Republican congressman from California. He also expressed concerns
about the compensation of commission members: $200,000 annually.
If such political waxing seemed off-putting to Matthew War Bonnet, a Sicangu Lakota boarding school survivor sharing testimony virtually that day, he didn’t show it. The Elder showed a picture of his extended family and spoke of how he approached the Catholic diocese nine years ago in search of
dialogue, documents, or maybe even acknowledgement for the intergenerational trauma he and his kin have endured as a result of the abuse experienced from the St. Francis Boarding School in South Dakota. “I told them that if we could sit down and come up with a plan to help our children and our grandchildren that I would come back and work with them to do this,” War Bonnet told the subcommittee. “I have not heard from them.”
Here is War Bonnet holding up a picture of his relatives who attended the Catholic-run boarding school that he testified about to Congress. Listen to his full remarks, and many others from Thursday's hearing addressing HR 5444.
Getting out this newsletter met more challenges with my slow hotspot connection - but it's a good problem. I'm actually learning what it takes to get quality Internet in the Arctic, and let's just say, it's not cheap, like so many other luxuries that make life easy up
here. I'm not complaining. This week, the ice started to turn that gorgeous turquoise-hue right before it breaks up and drifts away. The land is a my reminder of things you just can't appreciate with a T1-line.
Hope your week is great,
Number of years the United States operated or supported Federal Indian boarding schools across the country beginning in 1819: 150
Total schools that were in operation: 408
Across total number of states (or then-territories): 37
Total number of schools in Oklahoma, the state with the largest concentration of schools: 76
Exact number of burial sites identified in the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, May 2022: 53
Approximate number of Federal Indian boarding schools linked to Native child deaths: 19
Estimated number of deaths as of May 2022: 500
Estimated number of land cession treaties between Tribes and the U.S. that included education-related provisions spelled out in the terms: 150
Total amount that Congress appropriated as an annual sum pursuant to the Civilization Fund Act of 1819 - an “extinction of tribes” law: $10K
Approximate percentage of Federal Indian boarding school that may have received support or involvement from a religious institution: 50%
Number of Federal Indian boarding schools out of 408 that may still be in operation today: 90
Total amount Congress appropriated to continue the investigation: $7M
Estimated number of boxes that may hold relevant boarding school records at the American Indian Records Repository (AIRR): 39,385
Approximate size in sheets of paper: 98,462,500
Total hours it took for this author to read and markup the Boarding School report: 03;12;53
Boarding School Survivors: Share Your Story With Congress
Request for Supportive Testimony for H.R. 5444
Are you boarding school survivor or descendant of an attendee?
Following last Thursday's hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, the HNRC is accepting written testimony until May 26th.
To familiarize yourself with the bill, here's the one-sheet.
Email your submission to HNRCDocs@mail.house.gov and don't forget to CC NABS at email@example.com Get it in by May 26 and your testimony will be on record with the U.S. House of Representatives.
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