“Federal Indian boarding schools have had a lasting impact on Native people and communities across America,” said Mr. Newland. “That impact continues to influence the lives of countless families, from the breakup of families and tribal nations to the loss of languages and cultural practices and relatives.”
The government has yet to provide a forum or opportunity for survivors or descendants of survivors of the boarding schools or their families to describe their experiences at the schools. In attempts to assimilate Native American children, the schools gave them English names, cut their hair and forbade them from speaking their languages and practicing their religions or cultural traditions.
Deborah Parker, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, said the children who died at government-run boarding schools deserve to be identified and their remains brought home. Ms. Parker said the efforts to find them won’t end until 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 regalia, prayers and religions before Indian Boarding Schools violently took them away,” Ms. Parker said.
Sitting with Ms. Haaland at the news 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.
“I learned everything about the European American culture,” he said. “It’s history, language, civilizations, math, science, but I didn’t know anything about who I was. As a native person, I came out not knowing who I was.”
Ms. Haaland also announced plans for a yearlong, cross-country tour called The Road to Healing, during which survivors of the boarding school system could share their stories.