“The hardest part is investigating the land and figuring out what this residential school did,” said Shannon O’Loughlin, executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, a nonprofit and citizen cultural group. the Choctaw Nation. Thousands of children “lived, worked and died” in these schools, “away from home,” O’Loughlin said. “And time has passed.”
Canada offers a grim glimpse of what the Home Office’s investigation might uncover: Last month, the mass graves of more than 1,500 children have been found on the grounds of seven former residential schools in Canada. The staggering number of stolen children found in these few institutions suggests the scale of what is to come as more and more motives are investigated and more and more tribes locate their missing.
In the United States, the investigation announced last month by Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo de Laguna and the first Indigenous person to head a Cabinet agency, aims to determine the scope and impact of the policy residential schools across the country. The survey aims to gather information on decades of institutionalized and federally funded cultural assimilation that has led to a multitude of negative outcomes for survivors and their families, from mental health issues to the loss of entire generations of the community.
The tribes are bracing for a calculation that many consider to be long overdue.
âThe truth must be heard from the perspective of those who have been hurt,â said Christine McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation. “There has to be an element of justice or transformation when assessing the impacts and the damage and the damage that has been done and how to restore the things that have been taken or broken.”
The company recognizes a truth that Indigenous peoples of North America have known for generations: that the governments of Canada and the United States have not contented themselves with taking the culture of the Indigenous children that both countries have attempted to embrace. assimilate through residential schools. In countless cases, they have also taken the lives of these children, each representing a stolen generation.
The experiences of residential school survivors – oral histories collected by nonprofits over the past decades – have documented rampant cases of sexual and physical abuse, psychological trauma and child deaths in managed facilities by churches and the federal government. In some cases, children have died of illness, government documents show, but survivors say there have been other deaths from abuse and neglect that schools have not reported.
Stories of children beaten for speaking their language, having their heads shaved, and being forced to use the Bible to understand how âbarbaricâ their culture was have been passed down through generations of indigenous families. In many cases, the abuse caused survivors to completely sever their ties to their Indigenous culture and history.
The schools were part of a larger campaign to erase Indigenous cultures, a step in the colonization of North America. the United Nations definition of genocide includes the âforcible transferâ of children from one group to another group.
But any national calculation of atrocities will not come easily. Researchers and tribal leaders say not only has the government tried for decades to cover their tracks, but loopholes in federal law raise serious concerns about how tribal nations will repatriate the remains of their lost children.
According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for a process of truth and reconciliation for survivors of Indian boarding schools. Many documents have been intentionally destroyed, while others exist in university archives and other historical collections, making their search difficult, especially for tribes who lack research personnel.
The Interior’s investigation will seek to identify children who did not return home after boarding schools and their tribal affiliations, giving tribal nations the opportunity not only to understand the impact on their communities, but also to begin the process. repatriation process.
Even though the Home Office’s investigation manages to find the files of most of the missing children, federal law makes the search for their remains and their repatriation a whole other problem.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, a federal law, was passed in 1990 to end the theft of cultural artifacts and human remains from graves, burial grounds and community areas. But the law was designed to regulate theft by universities, museums, and collectors, not to address the role of government in the genocide, or the legal path to recovery.
Not only does the law contain no provision for the protection of anonymous graves, such as those found in Canada and the United States, but it also does not have a mechanism to compel private landowners (such as the Catholic Church). Roman, which still owns many of the former boarding schools school sites) to cooperate with tribes or federal authorities for the repatriation of remains.
âThere has to be legislation that also applies, regardless of who owns the property these children are buried on,â said O’Loughlin, of the Association on American Indian Affairs. âI don’t care if the church owns it, or Walmart or the federal government. Everything should be treated the same. “
In the absence of a federal law governing Native American remains on state or private land, state laws will govern the way forward. One of the main concerns, O’Loughlin said, is that many states do not have laws regulating the discovery of anonymous graves.
The U.S. government’s campaign to destroy the cultural identity of Indigenous children and indoctrinate them with Christian beliefs began in 1879 with the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania and lasted into the 1990s. During those decades, the Indian Boarding School Policy established 367 schools across the United States.