“Federal Indian residential schools have had a lasting impact on Indigenous peoples and communities across America,” Newland said. “This impact continues to influence the lives of countless families, from the breakdown of families and tribal nations to the loss of languages, cultural practices and loved ones.”
The government has yet to provide a forum or opportunity for survivors or descendants of boarding school survivors or their families to describe their experiences at the schools. In an attempt to assimilate Native American children, schools gave them English names, cut their hair, and prohibited them from speaking their language and practicing their religion or cultural traditions.
Deborah Parker, executive director of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, said children who died at government-run boarding schools deserved to be identified and their remains brought home. Ms Parker said efforts to find them will only end when the United States fully accounts for the genocide committed against Native American children.
“Our children had names, our children had families, our children had their own languages, our children had their own insignia, prayers and religions before residential schools violently took them away,” Ms Parker said.
Sitting with Ms Haaland at the press conference was Jim Labelle, a survivor who spent 10 years in a government-run boarding school. Mr. Labelle said he was eight years old when he started there. His brother was six years old.
“I learned all about European American culture,” he said. “It’s history, language, civilizations, math, science, but I didn’t know who I was. As a native, I came out not knowing who I was.
Ms Haaland also announced plans for a year-long tour across the country called The Road to Healing, during which survivors of the boarding school system could share their stories.