OKLAHOMA WATCH: Native American residential school listening sessions begin at Anadarko | New

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko on Saturday, the first stop on a tour of listening sessions to document the testimonies of residential school survivors.

Beginning in the late 1800s, many Native American students were sent to federally run boarding schools, removing them from the influence of their tribes.

Schools were mechanisms for forced assimilation – children had their long braids cut off and punished for using Indigenous names and speaking Indigenous languages. Children were abused, forced to do manual labor and many died. Burial sites have been discovered in more than 50 schools.

The federal boarding school system included 408 schools in 37 states and territories between 1819 and 1969, according to a report released this spring. Present-day Oklahoma had the largest concentration of these schools at 76.

Why did Haaland come to Anadarko?

In May, the Department of the Interior, a federal agency responsible for conserving public lands and managing relations with tribal nations, released a report on its first phase of investigation into boarding schools and set out four goals. for the Federal Indian Boarding School. Initiative:

• Identify facilities and sites of federally supported boarding schools.

• Identify the names and tribal identities of Native American children who were interned in schools.

• Identify the locations of marked and unmarked burial sites, which are on or near campuses and contain the remains of children who died in schools.

• Incorporate into detailed reports the experiences of survivors and descendants whose lives, families and communities have been affected by the schools.

Haaland also announced the start of a year-long listening tour called The Road to Healing, during which she and Deputy Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland will travel across the country and create an oral history based on the testimonials from survivors of residential schools.

Oklahoma was the first leg of the tour. Haaland will also travel to Hawaii, Michigan, Arizona and South Dakota in 2022, with additional stops to be announced for 2023.

“Boarding school policies have affected every Indigenous person I know,” Haaland said during the listening session. “Some are survivors, some are descendants, but we all carry the trauma in our hearts. My ancestors endured the horrors of Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now head. first time in history that a cabinet secretary has come to the table with this shared trauma, and I haven’t lost it.

What are they trying to accomplish with the listening tour?

After the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Canada, Haaland announced that the United States would review its own federal residential school system, according to a press release from the Department of the Interior.

Congress established the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in September 2021 and tasked it with exploring the impacts of Native American boarding schools. The commission was also asked to provide recommendations on ways to protect unmarked graves, identify the tribal nations from which children were taken, and end the removal of Native American children from their families and tribes by the services. social workers, foster care agencies and adoption agencies. .

Who was there?

About 300 residential school survivors and community members gathered in the gymnasium at the Riverside Indian School. Audience members included Kiowa Tribe Chairman Lawrence Spottedbird, Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation Chairman Joseph Rupnick and Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby.

Journalists were allowed to observe the listening session for one hour; seven survivors shared their experiences at boarding schools across the country. Then, a private session without media presence followed.

Younger generations have shared positive experiences with Oklahoma Watch. Angel Elizarraras, 17, a member of the Wichita and affiliated tribes, new senior council president and a student of Riverside for two years, said the school brought her closer to her roots by teaching her songs, dances and the language of his tribe.

“This is my seventh year at Riverside and it really is a great school,” Elizarraras said. “It’s where complete strangers end up becoming family, and all the teachers and staff, they’re amazing, they treat you like you’re their child.”

What is the state of Native American boarding schools now?

Most schools nationwide closed in the 1990s, but the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education continues to operate four off-reserve boarding schools in Oklahoma, California, Oregon and South Dakota . Riverside at Anadarko is the nation’s oldest federal school. According to its website, the school boards have nearly 800 students from more than 75 Native American tribes across the country and have taught with a renewed emphasis on tribal self-determination and sovereignty since 1975.

Other active, tribally operated but federally funded schools in Oklahoma include Chickasaw Children’s Village in Kingston, Eufaula Dormitory in Eufaula, Jones Academy in Hartshorne, and Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah.

Nationally, there are 183 federally funded elementary and secondary schools, 53 bureau-run, and 130 tribal.

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