On Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland revealed the creation of a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative that would institute a comprehensive review of the United States’ past federal boarding school policies.
According to the Department of Interior, "the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will serve as an investigation about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools. The primary goal will be to identify boarding school facilities and sites; the location of known and possible student burial sites located at or near school facilities; and the identities and Tribal affiliations of children interred at such locations."
The creation of such initiative comes after the mass unmarked grave of 215 children was discovered on the grounds formerly used for the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The British Columbia school opened in 1890 and closed for good in 1978.
Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepémc, called the tragedy "An unthinkable loss that was spoken about but never documented."
The Department of Interior’s announcement was accompanied by a secretarial memo from Haaland, who is a Native American herself.
"The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School should prompt us to reflect on past Federal policies to culturally assimilate Indigenous peoples in the United States," said Haaland.
"The Department of the Interior (Department) must address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the traumas of the past. For more than a century, the Department was responsible for operating or overseeing Indian boarding schools across the United States and its territories," Haaland continued.
As part of the Initiative, the Department will be investigating the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools, with primary goals to "identify boarding school facilities and sites; the location of known and possible student burial sites located at or near school facilities; and the identities and Tribal affiliations of children interred at such locations."
Haaland added that "over the course of the Program, thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their homes and placed in Federal boarding schools across the country. Many who survived the ordeal returned home changed in unimaginable ways, and their experiences still resonate across the generations."
"Only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future we are all proud to embrace," she continued.