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Report: At least 500 children died in federal Indian boarding schools

By Doug Cunningham
Report: At least 500 children died in federal Indian boarding schools
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland during a virtual Tribal Nations Summit at Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on November 15, 2021. A Department of the Interior report Wednesday found at least 500 children died in the federal Indian boarding schools system in forced cultural assimilation efforts. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/UPI | License Photo

May 11 (UPI) -- An Interior Department report Wednesday said at least 500 native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children died while in boarding schools operated or supported by the U.S. government from 1819-1969.

The Interior Department said in a statement that federal Indian boarding school policies for more than a century and a half resulted in "the twin goals of cultural assimilation and territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples through the forced removal and relocation of their children."

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The report, the Interior Department statement said, is part of a comprehensive effort to address "the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies."

"The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies -- including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old -- are heartbreaking and undeniable," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.

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Volume 1 of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report said approximately 19 Federal Indian boarding schools accounted for the more than 500 deaths. The number of recorded deaths is expected to rise as the department continues investigating the 408 boarding schools that were operated in 37 states.

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The boarding school initiative was launched in June of 2021 to review the history of forced cultural assimilation of indigenous children.

The report found boarding school rules were often enforced through corporal punishment like solitary confinement, flogging, withholding food, whipping, slapping and cuffing.

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"We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face," Holland said in an Interior Department statement. "It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal."

The investigation uncovered burial sites at approximately 53 different schools, and more burial sites are expected to be found.

The report found that the boarding school system, "deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies in an attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; cutting the hair of Indian children; discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions and cultural practices; and organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills."

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Holland also announced "The Road To Healing," a yearlong tour of the country aimed at letting survivors of the Indiana boarding school system tell their stories, helping connect communities with trauma-informed support and facilitating collection of a permanent oral history.

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