WABASH, Ind.–From 1819 to 1969, the U.S. federal government operated boarding schools for American-Indian children. A new report from the Dept. of the Interior says those schools were meant to erode Indian culture and retrain Native children in European ways. Two of those schools were in Indiana.
The Dept. of the Interior has and is investigating burial sites on the grounds of those more than 400 schools, and has determined so far that around 500 children died. Some of the graves are unmarked. Others are poorly marked or in bad shape.
The investigation and report was inspired by the discovery of mass graves at similar schools in Canada.
The schools in Indiana were located in Renneselaer and Wabash. It has been reported that the Dept. of Natural Resources in Indiana is looking into whether there are grave sites at those schools. An e-mail to the DNR was not returned as of Thursday.
“I stand on the shoulders of my grandmother and my mother and the work we will do with the Federal Boarding School Initiative will have a transformational impact on the generations that follow,” said Interior Sec. Deb Haaland, a Native-American member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe.
The report states that the purpose of the boarding school system was to assimilate Indians into European culture.
“The Federal Indian boarding school system deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to the following: (1) renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; (2) cutting hair of Indian children; (3) discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices; and (4) organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills,” said the report.
“The report explains that the federal government pursued this policy of forced assimilation by targeting Indian children,” said Brayn Newland, assistant Interior Sec. for Indian Affairs. “While generations of Indian or Native Hawaiin children entered these boarding schools, many died, often far from their homes and families.”
Deaths at the schools, according to the report, occurred from a variety of causes. Seperation from family was a contributing factor to poor health.
“Indian boarding school child attendees had a 44 percent greater count of past-year chronic physical health problems (PYCPHP) as adults compared with adult nonattendees.355 Now-adult attendees were more likely to have cancer (more than three times), tuberculosis (more than twice), high cholesterol (95 percent), diabetes (81 percent), anemia (61 percent), arthritis (60 percent), and gall bladder disease (60 percent) than nonattendees,” read the report.
The report said that while the federal government operated some of the schools outright, it also paid some religious organizations and churches to operate the schools.
“To begin the process of healing from the harm and the violence caused by Indian assimilation policy, the Dept. of the Interior should affirm an explicit and express policy of cultural revitalization,” said Newland.
He said that includes the reintroduction of culture and language and tribal customs.
Follow-up reports are promised. It remains unclear what information about the schools in Indiana may come from those reports.
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