US finds 500 Native American boarding school deaths so far

A federal study has identified more than 500 student deaths at Native American boarding schools across the country.
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 7:48 AM MST|Updated: May. 11, 2022 at 12:19 PM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (AP) - A first-of-its-kind federal study of Native American boarding schools that for over a century sought to assimilate Indigenous children into white society has identified more than 500 student deaths at the institutions so far. But officials say that figure could grow exponentially as research continues.

The Interior Department report released Wednesday expands to more than 400 the number of schools that were known to have operated across the U.S. for 150 years, starting in the early 19th century. It identified more than 500 deaths in records for about 20 of them. The agency says a second volume of the report will cover burial sites and the impacts of the boarding schools on Indigenous communities.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced an initiative last June to investigate the troubled legacy of the schools. Indigenous children were taken from their communities for decades and forced into schools that sought to strip them of their language and culture. Churches also led some of the schools, backed by U.S. laws and policies. Later this week, a congressional subcommittee will hear testimony on a bill to establish a truth and healing commission.

“A lot of our people that went through the boarding schools are living with that trauma and we are probably into the second generation,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “These individuals who were in the boarding schools are now grandmothers.”

President Nez spoke to Arizona’s Family just after the news broke on Wednesday. He thinks because of Secretary Haaland, this issue is getting national attention. While he calls this initial report a start, an unknown number of children never returned home and he hopes the federal government will see more resources are needed to address mental and behavioral health. “There are stories that some never returned home and they are still missing today,” President Nez said. “So how do we get that type of information to the family members to have some closure?”

To read the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report as published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, click here.

Arizona’s Family news staff contributed to this report.

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