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NEH joins Interior Dept. effort to document federal Indian boarding school history

 Interior Secretary Deb Haaland addresses the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Boise
Murphy Woodhouse
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland addresses the recent Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Boise

The Department of Interior and National Endowment for the Humanities will work together to better document the traumatic history and legacy of federal Indian boarding schools, the agencies have announced.

From the early 19th century through the late 1960s, the U.S. government operated more than 400 of these schools in 37 states. Indigenous students’ names were changed, their hair was cut and the use of Indigenous languages was discouraged or prohibited. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse were widespread, as were malnourishment, overcrowding and poor health care.

Those are among the atrocities and traumas outlined in the first volume of an investigation requested by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland – the first Native American cabinet secretary – and published last year as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative.

The NEH has committed $4 million to digitize boarding school documents and collect oral histories of those who survived the schools and their descendants.

“The first step toward addressing the intergenerational consequences of these schools is to squarely acknowledge and examine the history of a federal system intended to separate families, erase Native languages and cultures, and dispossess Native peoples of their land," NEH Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo) said in a statement.

Haaland recently spoke about the Interior Department’s work to examine that history.

“We didn't set out on this painful journey simply because we're Indigenous, but because our people continue to bear the burden of intergenerational trauma incurred over decades of federal policies designed to kill our cultures, languages, lifeways and spirits,” she said during an address to the Society of Environmental Journalists in Boise last week.

This will be the first oral history project on federal Indian boarding schools undertaken by the U.S. government and is something that Indigenous communities have requested, according to the Interior Department.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Murphy Woodhouse
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