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Partnership: Remember boarding school survivors

Children stand on the grounds of the Indian boarding school at Fort Simcoe, Washington, around 1900. (Yakima Valley Museum)

Preserving the oral histories of Native American boarding school survivors recently got a boost of federal funds.

The Department of Interior (DOI) announced a partnership April 26 with the National Endowment for the Humanities to help ensure that oral histories aren’t forgotten. The partnership includes $4 million to pay for research and educational programming to share and preserve the stories of boarding school abuse victims.

DOI Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo), who has advocated for boarding school survivors throughout her tenure, said the goal of the partnership is also to rebuild bonds between Native communities and the federal government and lay a foundation for future generations to learn about the boarding school era.

Haaland launched a “Road to Healing” tour in the summer of 2022 as part of an ongoing federal Indian boarding school initiative that began in the summer of 2021. The ongoing tour stops at various U.S. locations and allows survivors to share their stories, access trauma-support resources, and record an oral history.

“[Haaland has] made a point of taking time to go and hold community forums to listen to people who were in those boarding schools,” Arlouine Kingman (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), the executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, said in the announcement. “I happened to go to the one at [the Rosebud Indian Reservation], and I tell you, I was crying with some of these people who told their stories.”

Kingman said the forums have helped to alleviate some of the trauma survivors experienced.

“The main thing is when they were raised in the boarding school, it took their culture, their values from them – so they did not grow up in a family where they were taught to share with one another or to take care of one another,” Kingman said. “They grew up without those family virtues we all instill in our children as they grow up, and that’s the great harm.”

From 1819 through the 1970s, the U.S. implemented policies that established and supported Indian boarding schools across the country. By 1926, according to DOI, 60,889, or nearly 83% of school-age Indian 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 DOI investigation also identified marked or unmarked burial sites at 53 different schools across the system – a number it 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.

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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