Democratic lawmakers are demanding support for survivors of Indian boarding schools
Democratic lawmakers Sharice Davids, Elizabeth Warren called boarding schools "a stain" in US history.
US had established more than 350 Indian boarding schools across 30 states by the mid-19th century
Survivors say finding American burial sites like those in Canada is a matter of 'when,' not 'if'
Lawmakers on Friday urged Indian Health Services (IHS) to provide support to the survivors and families affected by the US Indian boarding school system.
In a joint letter to Elizabeth A. Fowler, acting director of IHS, Democratic congresswoman Sharice Davids of Kansas, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts implored the department to work in collaboration with other departments as new revelations of the boarding school system come to light.
"The Indian Boarding School Policies were created and implemented by the federal government as brutal tools to terminate cultural, family, and Native identity," the Democrats wrote, calling an investigation into the schools "a long-overdue and crucial step as the federal government begins to acknowledge and address the harms created by these policies."
In June, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to review records and explore possible mass, unmarked graves near boarding schools throughout the country.
"The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be," Sec. Haaland said at the time.
"I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won't undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we're all proud to embrace."
The calls for action come as the remains of hundreds of Indigenous peoples, mostly children, were found outside several Canadian boarding schools earlier this year. The gruesome discoveries prompted Sec. Haaland to launch the initiative.
Sen. Sharice David and Sen. Elizabeth Warren
By the mid-19th century, the US had established more than 350 Indian boarding schools across 30 states, designed to strip Indigenous children of their languages, spiritualities, and traditions.
Babies and children taken from their families were relocated hundreds of miles away and placed into barracks where many were often physically and sexually assaulted by the nuns and priests who ran them.
Children were forbidden to speak their languages; and if caught, could either have a needle stabbed through their tongue or whipped with a wooden ruler.
The US coined the boarding school policy "Kill the Indian, Save the Man."
"We urge IHS to consider potential protections for those experiencing trauma from the Indian Boarding School Policies and the revelations that will continue to emerge during the course of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative," the letter read.
"The Indian Boarding School era is a stain in America's history, and it is long overdue that we begin to formally investigate the past wrongs and ongoing harms of these policies."
Giovanni Rocco, deputy press secretary for Sec. Haaland, told Insider that they'll begin consulting with tribes in late fall "where we will discuss ways to protect and share sensitive information, and how to protect grave sites and sacred burial traditions."
Kevin Killer, president of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, told Insider exclusively that the discovery of the mass graves in Canada is a brutal reminder of what his nation in particular endured in Indian boarding schools.
"It's hard to put into words the hurt this is bringing up within our tribal nation about what our youngest ancestors had to endure for being born as Lakotas," he said.
"We will work together as a nation to ensure their memories are honored properly and find resolution by all legal means available to ensure this will not happen in the future," he added.
For many living survivors, it's not a matter of if there are mass, unmarked graves in the US, but where.
Ruby Left Hand Bull Sanchez, a Sicangu Lakota, attended St. Francis, an Indian boarding school in South Dakota. She told Insider that on her first day there, a nun shoved a bar of lye soap in her mouth for speaking Lakota.
Today, although Lakota was her first language, to speak it is too traumatic, she said; it dredges up too many awful memories.
For the Indigenous children who have yet to be discovered, Sanchez said they are "still stuck here" and cannot move on to the next place until they are returned home and given the proper prayers, songs, and burial.
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