Sitting in front of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in Washington, D.C., with a trembling voice, Ramona Klein recounted her horrific childhood memories of a student at Fort Totten, North Dakota, Indian boarding school.
There, she said, she was starved, beaten, humiliated and sexually assaulted. Many times she found herself staring out the frozen windows of her dorm room, longing to go home and see her parents.
When Klein was 7, she and five other siblings were ripped from her parents and sent to school under a federal program that assimilated Aboriginal people into white society — one that had withstood more than 150 years of challenge.
Klein, 74, testified on Thursday, May 12: “I remember seeing my mother standing and watching six of her eight children being put on a big green bus, And then taken to Tottenborg.” That image is forever imprinted in my mind and in my heart. “
Klein, an educator and member of the Chippewa Indians’ Turtle Mountain Band, was one of several American Indians to speak Thursday at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Native Americans in support of Rep. Sharice Davids HR 5444, Truth India Boarding School Policy Act and Therapeutic Board.
The hearing comes a day after the Interior Department released an unprecedented investigation into the deaths of more than 500 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children at 19 Indian boarding schools from the early to late 19th century. 1960s.
The Interior Department expects the death toll to rise by thousands or even tens of thousands as the federal investigation continues, the report said.
The study identified 408 boarding schools operating in 37 states or territories, as well as 53 cemeteries across the federal boarding school system, and this number is expected to increase over the course of the survey.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe in New Mexico and the first American Indian to lead a federal agency, came amid the grim discovery of the skeletal remains of hundreds of indigenous children at a former Indian boarding house. He launched a survey of Canadian schools in June 2021.
Counting child deaths has always been difficult because records are not always kept. The COVID-19 pandemic has also limited the Home Office’s research and its ability to obtain documents and the facilities that hold them, the report said.
Sherman Indian High School (formerly Sherman College) in Riverside and the former St. Boniface Indian Industrial School in Banning, now in ruins, are among hundreds of boarding schools expected to A multi-stage investigation will take years.
Sherman is one of only four remaining Indian boarding schools in the country that are still run by the federal government. The other three are in Oregon, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The Home Office said the second volume of the report would cover cemeteries and the federal government’s financial investment in schools and the impact of boarding schools on Aboriginal communities.
Tribal leaders have pressured the agency to ensure that any child remains found are properly cared for and returned to the tribe if needed.
Human Resources 5444
Davis, a Kansas Democrat, said at Thursday’s hearing that Davis’ legislation would complement Home Affairs by creating a formal committee to investigate and document assimilation practices in Indian boarding schools and their policies to deprive indigenous peoples of their culture and language. Department of Investigation.
“Instead of repeating the Home Office’s efforts, this bill expands and continues to recognize that legacy with the help of survivors, tribal leaders, policy experts and communities to help guide the process,” said Home Office member Davis . the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin and the first LGBT American Indian elected to Congress.
Bryan Newland, assistant secretary for Indian affairs at the Home Office, said the report provided an opportunity for the federal government to realign policy to support the revitalization of tribal languages and cultural practices.
“This reorientation of federal policy is necessary to offset nearly two centuries of federal policy aimed at destroying tribal languages and cultures,” Newland said in the report.
Among other things, Newland recommended prioritizing research into the more than 98 million documents collected or uncovered during the investigation, identifying survivors of Indian boarding schools, such as those who spoke at Thursday’s Washington hearing, and documenting their experiences.
Local tribe members get involved
Assemblyman James Ramos, a member of the San Manuel Mission and former president of the tribe, said the number of child deaths cited in the federal government’s report is not surprising and confirms what the tribal community has known all along.
Before his grandmother Martha Manuel Chacon died in March 2000 at the age of 89, she recounted her childhood experiences at the Banning St. Boniface Indian Technical School in a taped interview.
Chacon said students eat beans, two slices of bread and water every day and hot dogs, potatoes and bread on Sundays, while pastors enjoy hearty roasts, cakes and pies in the dining room.
At one point, after slapping a bully taunt and a bullying nun, she was ordered to take off her top and beaten with a belt.
“It was painful,” Ramos said in a phone interview. “Even after all these years, when she brought it up, she was quiet and didn’t want to talk about it anymore. My grandmother was able to go back to the reservation, but many others were not allowed home.”
He said the awareness now of what happened to Indian boarding schools started the recovery process for many indigenous peoples.
“It’s starting to open doors for healing, because now people are really acknowledging that this has happened,” Ramos said. “There’s more publicity now.”
Anthony Morales, president of the Gabrieno San Gabriel Mission, praised the federal government’s investigation but questioned why it didn’t extend to the California mission system, where thousands of indigenous people have died in a similar process of assimilation.
He said about 6,000 Aboriginal people — from his tribe and other parts of the country — died at the San Gabriel Mission and were buried there and around.
“The mission system is no different from the (Indian) boarding school system,” Morales said. “For me, what’s the difference?”
Morongo Indian Mission president Charles Martin said in a statement that the administration’s report marks an important first step toward recognizing indigenous peoples’ “dark history of past federal assimilation policies” that “have led to Countless heartbreaking deaths.” number of children. “
“More work needs to be done to document these abuses and historical errors of trying to root out tribes, tribal languages and tribal cultures, and to identify children who were stolen from their families before disappearing into the system,” Martin said.
San Manuel President Lynn Valbuena said in a statement Thursday that the tribe and other indigenous communities continue to struggle with the tragic experience of the federal boarding school system.
“This Home Office report confirms what we have known for generations, that this country cannot confine these traumas to a bygone era,” Valbuena said. “We are pleased to see this report argue that healing is related to Reconciliation must include the continuous restoration of our native language and customs that we have all but lost.”
Klein recalls curling up under a rough wool army blanket at Totenberg when she was preyed on by the mistress’s son.
“I remember being afraid to sleep at night, afraid that the housewife’s son who was walking down the hall at night found me in bed with a flashlight,” Klein said at Thursday’s hearing, her voice trembling. “He stroked me like no child should be stroked.”
And, like many other Aboriginal girls who were taken to boarding school, Klein remembers her long hair being cut short like a boy and combed in kerosene because it was thought she had head lice. This earned her the nickname “Butch” to her peers at school.
In addition to sexual abuse, students are often held in solitary confinement and asked to use Gloves or belts.
And, of course, the kids died.
“Children were killed,” said Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribe in Washington. She said the deaths were so common that a cemetery was established on the school grounds.
“For the voices of those who never had a chance to go home, for those who were forever changed by this extreme cruelty, for those who were chained to their basement radiators, for those who were sexually abused, told to wash up and The voices of those returning to the parade, and for those who have been told they will be forgotten, we are here to remind you of these children,” Parker said.
The Indigenous Peoples’ Subcommittee did not vote on Davis’ bill on Thursday. NABS spokeswoman Jennifer Blevins said it will take written testimony until May 26.