MISSION, S.D. — Native American victims of abuse at government-backed boarding schools are expected to testify Saturday as U.S Interior Secretary Deb Haaland continues her yearlong tour aimed at airing the troubled history of the institutions that were forced upon tribes.
The meeting is being held at the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in southern South Dakota, where tribal members said they were forced to attend schools that forbade their native language and customs.
Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Native American Boarding Schools. The stated goal was to “civilize” Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, but that was often carried out through abusive practices. Religious and private institutions often received federal funding and were willing partners.
More than 400 boarding schools with U.S. government ties have been documented. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says it has documented about 100 more boarding schools not on the government list that were run by groups such as churches.
“They all had the same missions, the same goals: ‘Kill the Indian, save the man,’” said Lacey Kinnart, who works for the Minnesota-based coalition. The idea, she said, was “to assimilate them and steal everything Indian out of them except their blood, make them despise who they are, their culture, and forget their language.”
Although most closed their doors long ago and none still exist to strip students of their identities, some still function as schools, albeit with drastically different missions that celebrate the cultural backgrounds of their Native students.