“Federal Indian boarding schools have had a lasting impact on indigenous peoples and communities across America,” said Mr. Newland. “That impact continues to affect the lives of countless families, from the breakup of families and tribal nations to the loss of languages and cultural practices and relatives.”
The government has not yet provided a forum or opportunity for survivors or descendants of boarding school survivors or their families to describe their experiences at the schools. In efforts to assimilate Native American children, the schools gave their English names, cut their hair, and banned them from speaking their language and practicing their religions or cultural traditions.
Deborah Parker, director of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, said the children who died in government-run boarding schools deserve to be identified and their remains should be taken home. Ms. Parker said efforts to find them will not end until the United States takes full account of the genocide committed against Native American children.
“Our children had names, our children had families, our children had their own languages, our children had their own regalia, prayers and religions before Indian boarding schools forcibly took them away,” Ms Parker said.
At the press conference was Mrs. Haaland Jim Labelle, a survivor who spent 10 years in a government-run boarding school. Mr Labelle said he was eight years old when he started there. His brother was six.
“I learned all about European-American culture,” he said. “It’s history, language, civilizations, math, science, but I didn’t know anything about who I was. As a native, I came out without knowing who I was.”
Ms. Haaland also announced plans for a year-long, cross-country tour called The Road to Healing, where boarding school survivors could share their stories.