Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

More information about federal Indian boarding schools out in January

More information about the atrocities committed at boarding schools run by the federal government that were designed to eradicate Indigenous people is expected in the new year.

In May 2022, the U.S. Department of Interior released a report based on the federal government’s first-ever investigation of the boarding school system in the country. It identified 408 federal Indian boarding schools which dispossessed Indigenous people of their lands and forcibly assimilated their children, including 43 schools in New Mexico.

The report’s second volume is expected to be published in early January 2024, said Heidi Todacheene, a senior advisor to U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna). Todacheene could not give a specific date of publication.

The upcoming report will contain new information on the total number of Indigenous children who attended federally run boarding schools, including their names and tribal affiliations, Todacheene (Diné) said.

It will also identify their marked and unmarked burial sites, the schools’ affiliations with religious organizations, and federal money spent on the boarding school system, Todacheene said.

Todacheene was speaking via Zoom from Washington D.C. on Tuesday to the New Mexico Legislature’s Indian Affairs Committee in Santa Fe.

Since the first volume on the U.S. boarding school initiative came out, Todacheene said, officials from Interior and other federal agencies have continued researching and collecting data, including through Road to Healing listening sessions across the country. The second-to-last session was held in Albuquerque on Oct. 29, according to Native News Online.

During the sessions, Todacheene said, Interior “has come to realize that the United States forcibly removed Indian children and relocated them hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their original tribal communities to prevent runaways or those from returning at home.”

“Federal laws have also forced parents to give up their children through punishment, imprisonment, or withholding food rations to families and communities,” Todacheene said. “The deliberate federal disruption of tribal communities through the removal of Indian children to off-reservation boarding schools will never be completely healed, nor that the loss of community or language or culture can adequately be replaced.”

The listening sessions are over but Todacheene said Haaland and Interior assistant secretary Bryan Newland (Ojibwe) still welcome anyone to share their story or experience.

About half of the federally run boarding schools “received support or other involvement” from religious organizations, the report found, and the federal government paid those schools using money from Indian Trust Funds to take children away without their parents’ consent and force them into environments designed to destroy generational bonds by eliminating language and culture.

Sen. Benny Shendo (D-Jemez) asked if the Interior Department plans to pay reparations to survivors, but Todacheene’s presentation ended before she could answer.

“I believe that’s illegal, because those are accounts that are held in trust for people,” Shendo said. “For the federal government to dip into that fund to pay for the annihilation and dispossession of tribes of their land, I think it’s pretty egregious.”

Rep. Harry Garcia (D-Grants) asked what the federal government is doing to make up for the damage it did to survivors.

“There’s gotta be long-term effects on these children who are adults now,” Garcia said.

Todacheene said the second volume will contain Newland’s recommendations “on how to move forward and help elevate those issues.”

“All of our leadership at the Department and other federal agencies, and of course in Indian Country, we know that we could have some improvements to our health care and mental health services,” Todacheene said.

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