Interior Secretary Deb HaalandDeb HaalandBiden administration eyes potential offshore wind sites in Gulf of Mexico America the Beautiful initiative requires all hands on deck Biden administration moves to reverse Trump endangered species rollbacks MORE, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet secretary, called on the U.S. to do more to address the legacy of abuse-ridden boarding schools for Indigenous children.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post published Friday, Haaland discussed the recent discovery of an unmarked mass grave in Canada containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children, near the site of a former so-called residential school.
Haaland calls herself a product of the same “horrific assimilationist policies” in the U.S.
Her great-grandfather, she writes, was forced to attend Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Children at the school were forced to cut their hair and change their names and subjected to corporal punishment for behaviors associated with their own cultures. Founder Richard Henry Pratt coined the slogan “kill the Indian, save the man” for the institution’s mission.
“The lasting and profound impacts of the federal government’s boarding school system have never been appropriately addressed,” Haaland wrote. “This attempt to wipe out Native identity, language and culture continues to manifest itself in the disparities our communities face, including long-standing intergenerational trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, premature deaths, and additional undocumented physiological and psychological impacts.”
Many of the schools, she noted, were under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department, saying that the same department can now be a mechanism for restoring the culture it previously attempted to wipe out.
“Many Native children want to learn their tribe’s language, songs and ceremonies. Many Native families want the children who were lost to come home, regardless of how long ago they were stolen,” she wrote.
Haaland also noted provisions expanding tribal sovereignty and education in the Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget request. The request for the Bureau of Indian Affairs includes $1.3 billion in funding, a $110.6 million increase from the enacted 2021 budget.
“Though it is uncomfortable to learn that the country you love is capable of committing such acts, the first step to justice is acknowledging these painful truths and gaining a full understanding of their impacts so that we can unravel the threads of trauma and injustice that linger,” Haaland concluded. “We have a long road of healing ahead of us, but together with tribal nations, I am sure that we can work together for a future that we will all be proud to embrace.”
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