The Department of the Interior is set to release a report on its investigation into the federal government’s past oversight of Native American boarding schools.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland told reporters on a call on Wednesday that the report would be released in April, but did not specify a date. She first described the initiative in June, saying it would reveal the truth about the loss of life and the lasting consequences of boarding schools.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and policies to establish and support boarding schools for Native Americans across the country. For more than 150 years, Indigenous children have been removed from their communities and forced to attend these assimilation-oriented schools.
The discovery of the remains of more than 1,000 children in Canada has rekindled the spotlight in the United States and stirred strong emotions among tribal communities, including grief, anger, reflection and a deep desire for healing.
“We’re very conscious of the fact that we need to create a safe space for people to share information and seek out resources,” Haaland said Wednesday. “We recognize that this is a very traumatic experience for many people.”
The Home Office said it had no further details when contacted by The Associated Press.
Boarding school work will include compiling and reviewing records to identify former schools, locating known and possible burial sites at or near those schools, and uncovering students’ names and tribal affiliations, Haaland said.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition signed an agreement with the Department of the Interior in December to share research, but noted that the authority of the Interior is limited.
“We view this as a critical first step for this country to acknowledge and address the horrors and cultural genocide that our Indigenous children, families and tribal nations have suffered in federally run Indian residential schools. and churches,” said Deborah Parker, the coalitions. general manager and citizen of the Tulalip Tribes.
The coalition is in Washington this week pushing for bills that would create a commission to further the Interior’s findings, said spokeswoman Lora Horgen, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma.
Haaland made her remarks about boarding schools highlighting the work she and others at the Home Office have done since she took over the agency a year ago. Haaland, of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, is the first Native American to hold the post – raising Indian Country hopes for significant changes at an agency that has broad oversight of tribal affairs.
She summed up the work as impactful. She noted the administration’s response to climate change, the coronavirus and the need to improve roads, broadband and other infrastructure. Tribal leaders welcomed the injections of funding, but said these investments must be sustained in the future.
Specifically for Native American tribes, Haaland pointed to the restoration of the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah; pushing to create a buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico to protect the area sacred to Pueblo tribes from new oil and gas concessions; and a commitment to eliminate a derogatory term for Native American women from geographic features on federal lands.
President Joe Biden also renewed the Violence Against Women Act on Wednesday, which includes provisions to protect Native American women who were lacking, Haaland said.
Haaland was joined in the call by fellow New Mexican Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior. Trujillo outlined investments in water infrastructure that she says will help build the resilience of the system and ensure there is enough for the natural environment that depends on it.
The western United States is in the midst of a mega-drought that has shrunk rivers and major water sources faster than expected. On Wednesday, Lake Powell on the Colorado River sank to its lowest level on record, raising new concerns about power generated at the dam holding it back on the Arizona-Utah border.
Already, California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico are taking a mix of voluntary and mandatory water cuts from the river.