Washington: Canadian audiences have grown used to seeing an Indigenous politician denounce the federal legacy of residential schools. For Maka Black Elk, it was nothing short of a revelation.
Black Elk watched Wednesday as the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in American history described in chilling detail the 150-year legacy of abuse and neglect at Indian boarding schools, perpetrated in part by the U.S. government.
Investigators found marked and unmarked burial sites at the locations of 53 former Indigenous residential schools in the U.S., and as the work continues, that number will likely grow, said the newly released report.
So too, it predicted, will the number of dead: at least 500 so far, linked to 19 of the 408 schools identified to date as having operated with U.S. government funding in 37 states and then-territories between 1819 and 1969.
Rules were enforced through corporal punishment, including flogging and whipping, solitary confinement, starvation, slapping and cuffing. Older students were at times forced to abuse their younger colleagues.
And in some cases, funding for some schools may have come from money set aside for Indigenous communities that ceded their lands to the U.S.
“The investigation shows that the United States may have used moneys held in Tribal trust accounts, including those based on cessions of Indian territories to the United States, to fund Indian children to attend federal Indian boarding schools.’’
With the ultimate goal of eradicating the Indigenous way of life, children were forced to change their names, cut their hair, abandon traditional languages and routinely perform military drills.
Then they were put to work, raising livestock and chickens, making bricks and garments, producing lumber, cooking, helping to build irrigation systems and even U.S. railroads.
By itself, the report commissioned last June by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland likely proved shocking but not surprising to members of Indigenous communities on either side of the Canada-U.S. border.
“This is not new to us,’’ an emotional Haaland said, gesturing to indicate the other Indigenous officials and guests in the room at the Department of the Interior.
“We have lived with the intergenerational trauma of federal Indian boarding school policies for many years. What is new is the determination in the Biden-Harris administration to make a lasting difference in the impact of this trauma for future generations.’’