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‘Healing’ tour next step in boarding school initiative

The Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, was established by Congress in 1891. (Photo: American Indian Boarding Schools Facebook page)

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), began a “Road to Healing” tour July 9 in Oklahoma as part of the ongoing federal Indian boarding school initiative that was launched in June 2021.

The tour at U.S. locations is expected to continue for 12 months. It is designed to allow Native American survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system to share their stories, to connect communities with trauma-support resources, and to record an oral history.

Additional tour stops are expected to include Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan and South Dakota, with other states to be announced for 2023.

“I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace,” Haaland said in a statement.

According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), from 1819 through the 1970s the U.S. implemented policies that established and supported Indian boarding schools across the country. By 1926, 60,889, or nearly 83% of Indian school-age children attended boarding schools. The purpose was cultural assimilation by forcibly removing the children from their families, communities, languages, religions and cultural beliefs. Many endured physical and emotional abuse and in some cases died.

An initial DOI investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states or (then) territories, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii. Churches ran more than 150 schools – about half each by Catholic and Protestant groups, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. The investigation also identified marked or unmarked burial sites at 53 different schools across the system – a number the DOI expects to increase.

A DOI-led inventory of the schools – that includes profiles and maps – has Florida connections. It notes the St. Augustine Day School for Apache Children at Fort Marion, dating to 1886 and 1887. The DOI information states that while Fort Marion was used to incarcerate members of various tribes, including Seminoles, the crowded conditions prompted officials to visit the site and assess whether some of the young men and teenagers would make good pupils for boarding schools. Florida is also referenced in connection with a Mississippi school from 1820 to 1830.

More information is at doi.gov and boardingschoolhealing.org.

This photo from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division shows children at an unidentified Indian boarding school. (Photo via Department of the Interior)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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