The U.S. government will investigate the dark history of Native American boarding schools, and work to find the remains of children who died in them, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said on Tuesday.
Haaland, a former congresswoman from New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, last year introduced legislation calling for a Truth and Healing Commission into conditions at former Native American boarding schools.
Haaland did not provide details on exactly how the Interior Department would carry out the investigation but she said that given that it oversaw the schools, it was uniquely positioned to do so.
“We must shed light on the traumas of the past,” Haaland said in remarks delivered via video to the National Congress of American Indians. “We must uncover the truth about the loss of human life, and the lasting consequences of these schools.”
The department would work on discovering who attended the schools, where the schools were located and to find the remains of children who died there.
Conditions at former Native American boarding schools gained global attention last month when tribal leaders in Canada announced the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school for indigenous children.
Unlike the United States, Canada carried out a full investigation into its schools via a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The U.S. government has yet to provide any true accounting of the legacy of such schools, including never acknowledging how many children attended them, how many children died or went missing from them or even how many schools existed.
For over 150 years, Native American children in the United States were forcibly removed from their tribes and sent to such schools beginning in 1819. Many children were abused at the schools, and tens of thousands were never heard from again, activists and researchers say.
The Interior Department oversaw the Native American boarding schools and carried out the policies of removing children from tribes in an attempt to forcibly assimilate Native Americans.
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