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First-ever report details abuse, trauma inflicted by Indian boarding schools, including in KC metro

Report seeks to list school, burial sites
Shawnee Indian Mission
Posted at 4:51 PM, May 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-11 17:51:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time, the U.S. Department of the Interior has released a report detailing the abuse, trauma and generational impact the Indian boarding school system inflicted on Native American people in the United States.

The report is part of the department's Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which seeks to create a comprehensive list of boarding schools and connected burial sites, as well as document and address the ways Native Americans were impacted by harmful U.S. policies.

The report found from 1819 to 1969, the U.S. operated 408 boarding schools, with 14 boarding school sites in Kansas and two in Missouri.

The KSHB 41 I-Team reported on one of the most well-known boarding schools in the region, Shawnee Indian Mission, last fall.

The investigation found at least 53 burial sites for children nationwide, marked and unmarked, across the boarding school system, but the department expects they will uncover more as the investigation continues.

The locations of the burial sites will not be made public to prevent vandalism and disruption.

The Department of the Interior said it could not provide information about how many burial sites they identified in Kansas and Missouri.

The report found that 19 boarding schools accounted for 500 student deaths, but the report is not exhaustive and it does not list the children's names.

What were these schools?
The main goal of these boarding schools was twofold: dispossession of tribal lands and forced assimilation.

If the U.S. government could break up tribal land and ways of life, they could break up the tribes, forcing native families to become dependent on the government.

Many of the boarding schools were run by religious groups who received money from the federal government to force the children to abandon their cultures and fall into an often military-like education regimen, learning English and doing manual labor to keep the schools running.

However, the report found that much of the funding used for the boarding schools came out of Indian treaty funds and not from the government.

Many children were taken from their homes, whether they were willing or not, and shipped across the country. Many did not see their families for years.

The report found during this time, children were subject to corporal punishment, sexual abuse and poor sanitary conditions while at their schools. They were given English names and were forbidden to speak their native languages or participate in any cultural practices.

As a result, the report says, kids felt a heightened sense of loneliness, despair and a lack of identity, which they passed on to their children.

The Department staff visited the American Indian Records Repository (AIRR) facility in Lenexa to conduct research.

The facility is located about 90 feet underground in limestone caves and has more than 200,000 categorized boxes of retired Indian Affairs records, some dating back to the 1700s. Each box contains about 2,500 pages of documents.

Going forward:
After the report, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Bryan Newland issued eight recommendations:

  1. Continue the full investigation - This includes gathering records from boarding schools, figuring out the total number of students and their names, the total number of burial sites, expand school profiles, detail the health and mortality rates of students, find documented forced assimilation policies, and find out the total number of federal funding that went to boarding schools.
  2. Find surviving students
  3. Document students' experiences and how they affected the rest of their lives
  4. Support protection of existing boarding school sites
  5. Develop a repository for the boarding school records
  6. Identify and engage any other federal agencies who might have records on boarding school students
  7. Support non-federal entities with records
  8. Support congressional action; such as protecting the burial site locations, supporting reburial, Native language revitalization, Indian health research, and a federal memorial for the kids who died at boarding schools.

The Shawnee Tribe, whose children attended the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, called for a federal investigation into boarding schools last fall on Orange Shirt Day.

In April, the Shawnee Tribe announced the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded them $25,000 to continue their efforts to uncover and preserve more history at the Shawnee Indian Mission.

With the grant, the Shawnee Tribe has plans to prepare an official Historic Structure Report.

Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids, who represents the 3rd congressional district where the Shawnee Indian Mission is located, gave issued a statement in response to the federal report:

“U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies stripped children from their families and their cultures—actions that continue to impact Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities in Kansas and across the country today. We must continue to acknowledge that legacy and understand the full truth of these policies, and I’m glad to see steps taken like today’s report, even if those steps are painful or uncomfortable.”