The U.S. Department of the Interior released a national investigative report today that identified more than 400 federally-run schools for Native American children, including 15 in Washington state. The report is the first step for the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative launched by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland last June following stunning revelations of hundreds of unmarked graves at Indian residential schools in Canada.
These boarding schools were designed to forcibly remove children from their families and place them with educators who suppressed the use of Native language and any learning of Native cultures and beliefs. There have been numerous reports of students being severely abused when these schools operated. Thousands of children never returned home.
Such schools began opening in the late 1880s and continued operating this way until as late as the 1960s, when new federal laws gave American Indians more rights and control of their children's education. The report concludes that more investigation is needed to better understand what occurred at these schools and their lasting impacts on American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.
“The federal and state governments of the United States have dealt tremendous loss and suffering to the Native and Indigenous people throughout generations, including the horrific and systematic erasure of their culture and their children,” Inslee said in response to the report. “It is difficult to confront such hard truths about our past, but it is necessary for healing and progress. Washington state stands ready to do what we can to acknowledge the trauma and harm these schools caused, and uplift the efforts of those who fight to ensure the many Tribal languages, cultures and knowledge persist and flourish.”
Additional information from the report
The institutions identified in the report that operated in Washington include:
- Chehalis Boarding and Day School in Oakville
- Colville Mission School in Kettle Falls
- Cushman Indian School in Tacoma
- Fort Simcoe Indian Boarding School in White Swan
- Fort Spokane Boarding School in Davenport
- Neah Bay Boarding and Day School in Neah Bay
- Puyallup Indian School in Squaxin Island
- Quinaielt Boarding and Day School in Taholah
- S'Kokomish Boarding and Day School in Olympia
- St. George Indian Residential School in Federal Way
- St. Joseph's Boarding School in Federal Way
- Paschal Sherman Indian School in Omak
- Tonasket Boarding School in Tonasket
- Tulalip Indian Industrial School in Tulalip Bay
- Tulalip Mission School in Priest's Point
More information is needed to determine whether Washington state served as a co-operator of any of these schools. It is unclear whether any unmarked graves are located at the school sites. The report indicates 53 cemeteries associated with the schools nationwide, but to prevent exploitation of graves, the locations were not disclosed.
Secretary Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary. You can read her op-ed about her family’s experience with federal boarding schools.
American Indian children pictured in a field in front of the Chehalis Boarding and Day School in Oakville in 1885. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Archives.