U.S. Interior Secretary concludes listening tour on Indian boarding school legacy

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks at the opening of a session to hear from survivors of government-sponsored Native American boarding schools at Montana State University, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Bozeman, Montana The Interior Department says more than 400 of the abusive, government-backed schools operated across the U.S. (Matthew Brown/AP/via CP)

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s yearlong “The Road to Healing” tour, undertaken to create a permanent oral history of Indian boarding schools in the U.S. had its last stop on Sunday.

“The Road to Healing has been an incredible opportunity to share with folks from across the country – and one that has left an indelible mark on how we will proceed with our work,” Haaland said in a statement on Monday.

This is one step, among many, that we will take to strengthen and rebuild the bonds within Native communities that federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break. Those steps have the potential to alter the course of our future.” 

Twenty-one schools in Alaska

The Federal Indian boarding school system in the United States, which operated from 1819 to 1969, consisted of 408 federal schools, including 21 in Alaska.

This system, akin to Canada’s residential school system, aimed to assimilate Indigenous children into the dominant culture while suppressing their native languages. Reports of abuse at these schools were also common.

In 2021, Secretary Haaland initiated the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to address the lasting legacy of the institutions.

Fred John Jr., in yellow vest, addresses U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland during the Interior’s “Road to Healing” event, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, in Anchorage, Alaska. The tour travelled across the country over a year to provide survivors of federal Indian boarding schools to speak of their experiences. (Mark Thiessen/AP/via CP)

The Department also undertook an investigative report to document historical records related to the schools and identify the locations of these institutions.

As part of the broader efforts to confront the history of Federal Indian Boarding Schools, Secretary Haaland launched “The Road to Healing” tour, a year-long initiative to gather testimonies from former students and their families based on recommendations from the report.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, shared that she and her family comprehended the legacy described by those who attended the schools.

The Alaska tour stop was in October and included a totem pole raising ceremony.

The tour also previously visited Hawaii to hear about the impact of boarding school and federal assimilation policies there, included bans on the use of ʻŌlelo Hawai’i, the Hawaiian language.

The last stop on the tour Sunday was at Montana State University.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn@cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North: 

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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

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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