Legal group supports US review of Indigenous boarding schools
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – The American Bar Association’s decision-making body has voted in favor of a resolution supporting the US Department of the Interior as it strives to uncover the troubled legacy of federal boarding schools that sought to assimilate indigenous youth into white society.
The resolution, adopted by delegates at the bar association’s annual meeting on Monday, calls on the Biden administration and Congress to fully fund the initiative and provide subpoena power to the Home Office as it collect and review tons of documents related to schools.
The measure also supports legislation that would create a federal commission to investigate and document all aspects of the boarding school system in the United States, including the publication of reports on the root causes of human rights violations in schools. and make recommendations to prevent future atrocities.
“Shedding light on what’s going on here is so critical because we know that if we don’t learn from this story, we are doomed to repeat it,” Mark Schickman, a San Francisco-based lawyer who serves as special adviser with the bar, said while presenting the resolution.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American to head a Cabinet agency, announced the internship initiative following the announcement of the discovery of hundreds of bodies on the grounds of former residential schools for Aboriginal children in Canada.
Experts say initiative will be difficult because documents are scattered across jurisdictions – from the bowels of university archives to government offices, churches, museums and personal collections.
“The department is compiling decades of files and records to begin a proper review that will allow us to organize documents, identify available and missing information and ensure our record system is standardized,” said Melissa Schwartz, spokesperson for the Home Office.
The agency is also building a framework for how it will partner with external organizations to guide the next steps in the review.
Consultations with the tribes are expected to begin in late fall. Schwartz said these discussions will focus on how to protect and share sensitive information and how to protect burial sites and sacred burial traditions.
In the United States, the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 and other laws and policies were enacted to establish and support Native American boarding schools across the country. For over 150 years, Indigenous children have been removed from their communities and placed in assimilationist residential schools.
The discoveries in Canada and the renewed spotlight in the United States aroused strong emotions among tribal communities, including grief, anger, reflection and a deep desire for healing.
Patricia Lee Refo, president of the American Bar Association, said the resolution passed Monday arose out of her visit to the Navajo Nation in July. She met with Tribal President Jonathan Nez, the President of the All-Female Navajo Nation Tribal Council and Supreme Court.
Nez said the troubling story of residential schools deserves more attention to educate people about the atrocities suffered by Native Americans and the intergenerational effects of the residential school experience.
The Native American Bar Association passed a resolution last year calling on Congress to introduce legislation focused on remedies for the treatment of American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The resolution passed on Monday by the American Bar Association includes language in support of legislation that would establish the first formal commission in U.S. history to investigate, document and recognize past injustices by the federal government in genocide culture and assimilation practices through its boarding school policy.
Brad Regehr, a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and the first Indigenous person to serve as president of the Canadian Bar Association, spoke at the American Bar Association meeting on Monday. Choking, he said he and his grandfather were survivors of the residential school program.
Between the 1880s and the 1990s, he said 150,000 indigenous children in his country were forcibly removed from their families and placed in schools far from their homes. Up to 25,000 children, including toddlers, never returned, he said.
Regehr spoke of the calls to action made after nearly a decade of work by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the ongoing findings of child remains.
“It hit me hard, and it hits and continues to hit many Indigenous peoples,” he said, “but it also hit many Canadians hard for the first time in their history. “
This story has been corrected to show that the president of the American Bar Association visited the Navajo Nation in July, not June.