More than 500 Native American children died while attending federal boarding schools intended to force their assimilation and eradicate their culture. As the U.S. Department of Interior’s investigation into these government-run institutions enters its next phase, that number is likely to grow.
The intergenerational trauma associated with this sad chapter in our history continues to loom large in the lives of Native Americans across the United States. From the break-up of families and tribes to the loss of native languages and customs, there is not a single American Indian, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian in the country whose life has not been affected by the schools.
As a leading Child Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Killino has committed his life to fighting for the rights of injured and abused children. If you lost someone or were yourself a survivor of abuse at a government-run Native America boarding school, you deserve justice. Please call our law firm toll-free at 877-875-2927 to speak with a top child abuse and wrongful death attorney to learn more about your legal rights.
The Shameful History of Native American Boarding Schools in the United States
The seeds of the federal boarding school system for Native American children were planted in 1819, with the passage of the Civilization Fund Act, which called for an American-style education to be provided to Indigenous societies in order to enforce “civilization process”. This era of assimilation was part of the United States’ overall attempt to kill, annihilate, or assimilate Native Americans and eradicate Indigenous culture.
The first of the boarding schools was established in 1860, and eventually nearly 400 were operating in 30 states across the country. While some were run directly by the government, others were operated by Catholic and Protestant churches and religious organization with government funding. Although we don’t know how many children were sent to these schools – either voluntarily or by force – more than 20,000 were attending by 1900. By 1925, that number had more than tripled.
Children who attended these schools faced physical punishment for speaking their native language, robbed of their native names, stripped of traditional clothing, and forbidden from acting in any way that might be seen to represent traditional or cultural practices. Most were forced to convert to Christianity. In addition to cultural and spiritual abuse, many suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of their teachers and other school personal.
Some of these children never returned home and remain unaccounted for.
Deaths at U.S. Native American Boarding Schools
Now a first-of-its-kind federal study of those boarding schools has identified more than 50 associated burial sites, a figure that could grow exponentially as research continues. According to an initial report released earlier this month, 14 of those sites contain the graves of more than 500 children who died while attending the schools between 1819 and 1969.
“Many of those children were buried in unmarked or poorly maintained burial sites far from their Indian Tribes, Alaska Native Villages, the Native Hawaiian Community, and families, often hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away,” the report states.
The Interior Department plans to eventually release a second volume of the report, this time covering all of the burial sites, as well as the federal government’s financial investment in the schools and the impacts of the boarding schools on Indigenous communities.
Native Americans and Intergenerational Trauma
To many people, the abuse and mistreatment suffered by Native American children at government-run and funded boarding schools occurred long ago and belongs to history. But the last of the schools did not shut their doors until 1978, and the last known child deaths occurred as recently as 1969. Research also suggests that high rates of addiction, suicide, mental illness, sexual violence, and other problems plaguing Native American communities today are, at least in part, influenced by these abusive schools and attempts to eradicate Indigenous cultures..
“The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement announcing the report’s release.
So far, the United States government has done nothing to help survivors or their descendants process this trauma. According to Deborah Parker, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, at the very least, the children who died at government-run boarding schools deserve to be identified and their remains returned home.
“Our children had names, our children had families, our children had their own languages, our children had their own regalia, prayers. and religions before Indian Boarding Schools violently took them away,” she told the New York Times.
Contact an Experienced Child Injury Lawyer
Child Injury Lawyer Jeffrey Killino and his law firm have extensive experience handling personal injury and wrongful death cases, earning national recognition for his aggressive pursuit of justice on behalf of injured kids and their families. While no amount of compensation can make up for the abuse inflicted on the Native American children and families victimized by these government-run boarding schools, taking legal action could provide a path to accountability and healing.
If you or a member of your family was subjected physical or sexual abuse, disappeared, or died while attending a government-run Native American boarding school, our child injury attorneys are ready to help you find some semblance of justice. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 1-877-875- 2927.