MISSION, SD — Native American victims of abuse at government-supported boarding schools are set to testify on Saturday as U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland continues her year-long tour aimed at spreading the troubled history of institutions that have been imposed on tribes.
The meeting is being held on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in southern South Dakota, where members of the tribe said they were forced to attend schools that banned their native language and customs.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and policies to establish and support Native American boarding schools. The stated goal was to “civilize” Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians, but this was often achieved through abusive practices. Religious and private institutions often received federal funds and were willing partners.
Over 400 boarding schools with ties to the US government have been documented. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition says it has documented about 100 additional boarding schools not on the government list and operated 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 rob them of everything Indian except their blood, to make them despise who they are, their culture and forget their language”.
Although most closed long ago and none still exist to strip students of their identity, some still operate as schools, albeit with radically different missions that celebrate the cultural origins of their indigenous students.