Opening Doors to Truth, Justice, Healing

NABS, Department of Interior publish the truth about federal Indian boarding schools.

For decades, federal Indian boarding schools ripped Native American children from their families, stripped them of their culture and punished them into obedience.

These schools operated until 1969, and since then, the U.S. government has made little effort to acknowledge its part in Indigenous erasure. Until now.

Within the walls of federal Indian boarding schools

The Department of Interior released a report this May on the ongoing investigation of federal Indian boarding schools. Findings show a total of 408 boarding schools across 31 states. Twenty-one of those schools were located here in Minnesota, home to a large urban Indian community in the Twin Cities.

According to the report, these boarding schools robbed Native children of their names, languages and religious practices. Strict rules were created and enforced through severe punishments, like solitary confinement and physical abuse.

“They were meant to be, essentially, broken in these facilities so that they can be reprogrammed into what was deemed by the dominant society as a socially acceptable Euro-American citizen,” said Samuel Torres, deputy chief executive officer of The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Torres explained that NABS’ main goal is to open the doors to truth, justice and healing for Native American communities. His organization partnered with the Department of Interior to provide crucial information on the investigation of federal Indian boarding schools.

Findings from the investigation highlight the negative impact boarding schools had on the health of Native Americans. Medical studies cited in the investigation report these schools were responsible for the chronic health issues of child attendees.

These health issues, particularly in men who experienced abuse, raised stress levels that potentially changed biological functions.

Torres said this change can be passed down between generations, called epigenetic inheritance.

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition holds community gatherings, creating spaces for healing and connection.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition holds community gatherings, creating spaces for healing and connection.

The report also notes that the separation of Indian children from their families contributed to the risk of “PTSD, depression and unresolved grief” in their adulthood.

The investigation ultimately points to the disruption of Native communities as a trigger to the intergenerational trauma experienced by Native people.

“There are these divides in one’s own family, one’s own culture, one’s own nation, that have proven to be really challenging obstacles for Native communities and Native nations,” said Torres. “And so this isn’t just happening for a single generation. We’re talking about several generations of children that were removed from their homes.”

The road to healing

Truth and accountability are important for Native communities. The pathway to healing happens through their Native ceremonies and medicines, along with shared experiences within the community. It is a painful process but an impactful one that takes a lot of courage, said Torres.

Torres clarified it is not NABS’ place to dictate what healing looks like for Indigenous people. Instead, the organization aims to provide Native communities the resources they need to heal on their own terms.

This is why NABS is creating an online resource that allows Native people to access boarding school records.

Some church organizations and private institutions that were complicit in the assimilation of Native people have records of information on them. NABS is working on retrieving those records to give Native communities easy access to their history.

“Fundamentally, you can’t heal from that which isn’t even named, which isn’t even known,” Torres said, “especially by a society that refuses to recognize its complicity in an entire method of indoctrinating generations of children from a group that are indigenous to these lands.”