Interior Secretary meets with Indian boarding school survivors in Tulalip

Apr 24, 2023, 10:50 AM

indian boarding school...

Hundreds of people gathered at the Tulalip Tribes' hall near Marysville on Sunday to meet US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and to share memories of mistreatment at so-called "Indian boarding schools" run by missionaries and the federal government from the mid 19th century until well into the 20th century. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland met with survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants in Tulalip Sunday as part of a tour across the country looking to hear stories from those interned at the schools.

Teri Gobin, chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribe, said the Interior Department asked them to host the event so they could hear from indigenous people from all over the region.

Federal Indian boarding schools implemented systematic cultural whitewashing, new report reveals

“Today is to have the boarding school survivors give testimony on what exactly happened to them in the schools,” Gobin said. “These have been stories that haven’t been told for many decades, and there will be some horrific stories, but there will also be healing that goes on through here.”

A 2022 investigative report from the U.S. Department of the Interior found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal government supported more than 400 boarding schools in 37 states, with 15 of those schools in Washington state.

The report described the boarding school environment as fostering “rampant physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; disease; malnourishment; overcrowding; and lack of health care.” These schools housed Native American children as young as four years old.

The report also acknowledges that the federal government used money from Indian Trust Funds to pay schools, including those run by religious organizations, to take children away without parental consent and force them into environments designed to destroy generational bonds by eliminating language and culture.

Gobin told the story of her father, Stan Jones’ experience in a tribal boarding school.

“He remembers his mouth being washed out with lye soap, which made it dry and crack and bleed. And he was locked in the closet from not keeping his area clean when he heard two nurses talking, and they were talking about his older brother [had] died,” Gobin said. “So my dad was there for three full years of his life, and it even made more of a disconnect because his father had remarried and started a new family. But they couldn’t see each other. He didn’t get to see his siblings very much during [those] three years.”

The event was Secretary Haaland’s sixth stop on her nationwide year-long tour, “Road to Healing,” visiting indigenous communities around the country.

Haaland recognized the pain of the community and said that while the healing will not be done overnight, she thinks that progress can be made.

“Federal Indian boarding school policies have touched every indigenous person I know. Some are survivors, some are descendants, but we all carry this painful legacy in our hearts. Deeply ingrained in so many of us is the trauma that these policies and these places have inflicted,” Haaland said.

“My ancestors and many of yours endured the horrors of Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead. This is the first time in history that a United States cabinet secretary comes to the table with this shared trauma,” Haaland continued. “That is not lost on me, and I’m determined to use my position for the good of the people.”

Local politicians, including Rep. Rick Larsen and Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez, also attended Sunday’s event.

Feliks Banel contributed to this report

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Interior Secretary meets with Indian boarding school survivors in Tulalip