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(Portland, Ore., June 22, 2021)—Today, United States Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the steps that the U.S. Department of Interior will take to address the history and current-day impact of boarding school policies and operations targeted at Native children and families through the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

The announcement of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative follows the news of the recent discovery of children’s remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada. Individuals, families, and communities have been reliving the trauma of boarding school policies and their impact in Canada and the United States. The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will include an investigation to identify past boarding schools, the location of known and possible burial sites, and the identities and tribal affiliations of the children who were taken there.

“A recurring theme of historical U.S. government policies is efforts to assimilate and intentionally separate Native children from their families, identities, languages, cultural practices, and spirituality. In the form of boarding schools and public and private child welfare systems, Native children were systematically removed from their families. Coupled with the removal of tribal nations from traditional homelands to reservations and the relocation of Native peoples to major cities, these practices severed children from their families and communities and left a wake of haunted families and unspoken traumas,” said Sarah Kastelic, executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “This initiative is the first step towards telling the truth about the centuries of forced assimilation, uncovering the lasting and intergenerational impact on Native families, and offering the opportunity for healing for tribal communities.”

“While difficult, long-term, and painful work, it is a starting place,” said Gil Vigil, president of the National Indian Child Welfare Association. “The Department of the Interior was responsible for the operation of Indian boarding schools for over a century. Compiling and making public data about the sites of boarding schools, known and suspected burial sites, and identified remains and tribal affiliations of children is a first step. In consultation with tribal governments, the Department of Interior can begin the process of healing the great open wound of our missing relatives.”

Read the Department of Interior press release: https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/secretary-haaland-announces-federal-indian-boarding-school-initiative

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About the National Indian Child Welfare Association
NICWA works to support the safety, health, and spiritual strength of Native children along the broad continuum of their lives. NICWA promotes building tribal capacity to prevent child abuse and neglect through positive systems change at the state, federal, and tribal level. For more information, visit www.nicwa.org.