June 23 (UPI) — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Tuesday an initiative to review the history of federal boarding schools that forced cultural assimilation of Indigenous children.
Haaland announced the launch of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to investigate the schools along with a memo directing the department to place an emphasis on identifying cemeteries and burial sites related to the schools.
“The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” said Haaland.
The schools were established under the 1819 Civilization Fund Act as part of a campaign by the federal government to assimilate Native American Children into White American society by separating them from their families.
The announcement comes after the remains of 215 children buried at a similar boarding school in Canada were uncovered last month.
The Interior Department said the goal of the Federal Boarding School Initiative will be to identify boarding school facilities and sites, the location of known and possible student burial sites and the identities and Tribal affiliations of students buried at those sites.
“I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel,” said Haaland. “But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”
Bryan Newland, principal deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs, said the initiative is expected to be a multi-year effort and that the Interior Department will consult with tribal leaders on how to best utilize the information gathered.
“We must shed light on what happened at federal Boarding Schools,” Newland said.