Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced a new initiative at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) that will not only protect sites where students were buried but uncover some of the dark history that has caused generational trauma for so many indigenous people.
According to Haaland, the Interior Department was responsible for operating the Indian boarding schools across the United States and its territories. For that reason, they are uniquely positioned to assist in the efforts to recover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted families for too long.
The history of residential schools is something that is felt and seen each day in the Native community. It was not only the loss of innocent lives but the loss of culture, language, identity, and family. The discovery of 215 children buried at Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada, sent waves throughout Indian Country and forced many to finally speak up and demand answers and change.
According to the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, the investigation will draw on various resources—including historical records, enrollment lists, and key documents from government and church institutions—for the investigation.
This will be the first time in history that such a program will be led by a Native American woman who will oversee and assist in returning remains to the appropriate tribal nation, in accordance with tribal laws and culture. The final report is due April 1, 2022.
Haaland said in a statement that the department will undergo its review in order to “shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be.”
“I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won't undo the heartbreak and loss we feel,” she said. “But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we're all proud to embrace.”