Action Needed: Boarding Schools

Lakota Law

Today, it happened. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This horrifying decision eliminating our right to choose what we do with our own bodies is an affront to birthing people everywhere, and it will needlessly create a healthcare crisis with an outsized impact on women of color. It’s also sadly symbolic of this nation’s long history of disregarding our rights and our lives.

On that note, you may recall that, just over a year ago, we published a hard-hitting blog discussing the horrifying discovery of 215 unmarked graves of First Nations children on the grounds of former Canadian residential schools. Then, a few months back, my Unci Madonna shared with you our own family’s harrowing journey through U.S. boarding schools set up to convert Native children to the ways of the colonizer. 

Now, under the direction of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — a tribal member of the Pueblo of Laguna who understands the real history — the federal government has released a comprehensive report outlining the scope of its own 150-year culpability in genocidal policy toward us as Native Peoples.

Lakota LawAccording to the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was just one of 408 institutions designed to “kill the Indian and save the man” run or supported by the United States between 1819 and 1969.

If you can set aside the time and are willing to sit with difficult material, I encourage you to read the entire 105-page Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report. It pulls no punches in its descriptions of the horrifying conditions the children faced in these institutions — even the “hunting” of them if they dared to run away back to their family homes.

The schools were, of course, there to help accomplish what the report describes as a twin policy of “Indian territorial dispossession and Indian assimilation, including through education.” Here’s how the U.S. Senate put it, as quoted in the report: “Beginning with President Washington, the stated policy of the Federal Government was to replace the Indian’s culture with our own. This was considered ‘advisable’ as the cheapest and safest way of subduing the Indians, of providing a safe habitat for the country’s white inhabitants, of helping the whites acquire desirable land, and of changing the Indian’s economy so that he would be content with less land. Education was a weapon by which these goals were to be accomplished.”

The report also states that at least 500 children are known to have died in these halls of “education,” a count that will no doubt rise significantly with further research. The investigation has “identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53” of the 408 schools across the Federal Indian boarding school system. The specific locations have not been released.

It’s important to remember that this report focuses only on federal Indian boarding schools. But there were many more of these institutions — where children were forced to perform manual labor, perform military drills, speak only English, undergo corporal punishment, and discipline younger students. We are still only scratching the surface of how widespread the government’s attempt was to wipe out our Native cultures.

Given the scope of the violations, and the lasting generational trauma inflicted on our communities, it’s critical that we find a path that helps us move forward in a good way. Right now, to help begin that process, Congress is considering passing truth and healing legislation. Your solidarity can make a difference, so if you have not already done so, I ask you to email your reps, tell them to pass the bills before both the Senate and the House, and share this action with your loved ones. 

Wopila tanka — thank you, always, for being in our corner!
DeCora Hawk
Field Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project