Interior Secretary Haaland Announces New Effort To Review Federally Run Indian Boarding Schools

Jun 22, 2021

Chilocco Indian Agricultural School was built in 1883, one of many federal schools designed to dissolve tribal identity and erase indigenous beliefs and practices.
Credit Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office

The first indigenous U.S. cabinet secretary said Tuesday her agency will take a close look at federal boarding schools the government forced Native children to attend.

Speaking at the National Congress of American Indians Midyear Conference, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will include compiling and analyzing the institutions' records to help figure out how many children died at them and what their ongoing effects on Native American communities are.

"For more than a century, the Interior Department was responsible for operating the Indian boarding schools across the United States and its territories. We are therefore uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long. It's our responsibility," Haaland said.

Oklahoma had several boarding schools, including Chilocco Indian Agricultural School. As many as 1,800 Native children from the state were sent away to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Students were routinely tortured at boarding schools to make them abandon their cultures and assimilate into white America. Some students were murdered.

"To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be," Haaland said.

Last month, a mass grave containing remains of more than 200 children was found at the site of a former boarding school in Canada.