U.S. Interior Secretary listens to Indian boarding school survivors on Alaska stop

Bryan Newland, U.S. assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, middle, listen to Jim LaBelle, right, speak during the Interior’s “Road to Healing” event, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Anchorage, Alaska. The tours being held around the country provide survivors of federal Indian boarding schools to speak of their experiences, with several Alaska Natives detailing sexual and physical assault and the loss of their language and culture. (Mark Thiessen/AP/The Canadian Press)

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has wrapped up her multi-day trip to Alaska which included participating in the process currently underway for survivors of federal Indian boarding schools to share their experiences.

“Today in Anchorage, [Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs Bryan Newland] and I listened to survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding schools as they shared their stories,” Haaland said in a post on X.

“Together, we will heal by confronting this dark chapter of American history.”

Twenty-one schools in Alaska

The Federal Indian boarding school system in the U.S. ran from 1819 to 1969 and involved 408 federal schools, including 21 in Alaska.

Like the residential school system in Canada, the U.S. boarding schools prevented Indigenous children from speaking their languages and sought to assimilate them into the dominant culture. There were also numerous reports of abuse at the schools.

In 2021, Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to address the legacy of the schools.

An investigative report was also done by the department to detail historical records pertaining to the schools and to document the sites of the institutions.

As part of the effort to address the Federal Indian Boarding School history, and based on suggestions from a report,  Haaland also launched the “The Road to Healing” tour, a year-old initiative to travel around the U.S. and collect stories from former students and their families.

The 10th stop on the tour was in Anchorage on Sunday at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

During the event, a totem pole was raised in commemorations of the former students. The pole was carved by Haida masters Joe Young and Sgwaayaans TJ Young.

“The Boarding School Healing Totem Pole is the first totem pole dedicated to all Alaska Native Boarding School survivors and descendants, and our Ancestors who did not return home,” the centre said in a Facebook post. 

“The theme of the pole and potlatch are in memorial and honor of all relatives impacted by the boarding schools and our collective healing moving forward.”

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, said the tour had particular significance for her.

“This is the first time in history that a United States cabinet secretary comes to the table with the same trauma that all of you have,” Haaland said in an Alaska Public Radio Network Report.

“I want you all to know that I’m with you on this journey. I will listen, I will grieve with you. I will weep and I will feel your pain.”

The tour’s previous stops have been in Oklahoma, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Washington, California, Michigan and Minnesota.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Pope Francis finishes Canadian visit in Nunavut, CBC News

Finland: Truth and Reconciliation Commission should continue says Sami Parliament in Finland, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Greenland, Denmark initiate investigation into past relations, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami-language education, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sami in Sweden start work on structure of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic

United States: U.S. launches effort to document history of Indigenous residential schools, The Associated Press


Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *