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Federal report on Indian boarding schools confirms more than 50 burial sites found nationwide

Indigenous Boarding Schools
Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia via AP, File
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This photo made available by the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia shows students at a Presbyterian boarding school in Sitka, Alaska in the summer of 1883. Native American and Alaskan Native children were regularly severed from their tribal families, customs, language and religion and brought to the schools in a push to assimilate and Christianize them.

The U.S. Interior Department has released the first volume of an investigation into the federal government’s Indian boarding school program. It’s an attempt to address the troubled legacy of the schools that sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society for 150 years.

Between 1819 and 1969, the Indian boarding school system included more than 400 facilities across 37 states as well as Alaska and Hawaii. The investigation identified marked and unmarked burial sites at more than 50 of the schools and the agency expects that number to grow.

According to officials, the schools inflicted deep intergenerational trauma on Native Americans. Children as young as 4 years old were forcibly taken from their families and in many cases given English names, prevented from speaking their languages, and barred from taking part in cultural and religious practices. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse was also rampant, and children were often subjected to military-style discipline. More than 500 deaths at 19 schools have so far been confirmed but officials expect to find many more.

A bulk of the schools were located in Arizona and New Mexico near the Four Corners area as well as in Oklahoma.

As part of the effort, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo, announced a year-long cross-country tour dubbed the Road to Healing. The agency says it’ll offer trauma-informed support while creating an oral history of Indian board schools as told by survivors.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.