The U.S. will soon launch an investigation into the legacy of its Native American boarding schools, and officials said it is inspired by the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative on Tuesday, which will carry with it a report on potential burial sites related to the federal boarding school program.
The U.S. began implementing Native American boarding schools with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 to “culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
“For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities.”
While the residential schools continue to operate today in the U.S., the policy of assimilation ran until the 1960s, according to the Department of the Interior.
By 1926, more than 80 per cent of Indigenous school-age children were attending boarding schools that were run either by the federal government or religious organizations, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.
Indigenous parents were not allowed to visit their children at the schools and abuse and injuries were “routine,” officials said.
According to the Interior Department’s statement, the discovery of 215 unmarked Indigenous graves in Canada by the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation “prompted the Department to undertake this new initiative.”
The discovery in Canada has since sparked a federal search for more unmarked Indigenous graves at residential schools across the country.
The U.S.’s investigation will primarily focus on identifying boarding school student burial sites, and a final report will be submitted by April 1, 2022.
“We must shed light on what happened at federal Boarding Schools,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland in a statement.
“As we move forward in this work, we will engage in Tribal consultation on how best to use this information, protect burial sites, and respect families and communities.”
— with files from the Associated Press