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US to study dark legacy of Alaska Native, American Indian boarding schools

In this March 5, 2020, file photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair,...
In this March 5, 2020, file photo Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., Native American Caucus co-chair, joined at right by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, speaks to reporters about the 2020 Census on Capitol Hill in Washington.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 4:21 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Dr. Rosita Kaahán Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, has a harrowing story of being brought to a Haines boarding school at the age of 6.

“I was taken. I was kidnapped from my grandparent’s home and brought to one of those mission schools,” she said. “And I didn’t understand why I was there at 6 years old. But the trauma, the punishment, the abuse, the abuse that I endured, was very, very real.”

During the 19th and 20th centuries, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families across the U.S. and brought to boarding schools. Native languages and cultures were suppressed as part of a policy of forced assimilation.

A report written in 2005 detailed the long history and painful legacy of boarding schools in Alaska. Generations of Alaska Native children were sent to boarding schools operated by missionaries and the Bureau of Indian Affairs through the 1970s.

The federal government will now investigate the dark legacy of boarding schools, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Tuesday, prompted by the recent discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at a Canadian boarding school.

“Many students endured routine injury and abuse,” Haaland said through a memorandum. “Some perished and were interred in unmarked graves.”

The federal investigation, expected to take years, will study the trauma caused by the schools and search for burial sites connected to them across the U.S. The Interior Department will work with tribes to decide what to do with remains that are discovered.

“Our communities are still mourning,” Haaland said to the National Congress of American Indians on Tuesday.

She explained that the removal of generations of Indigenous children created intergenerational trauma that continues to impact American Indians and Alaska Natives today.

Worl welcomed Haaland’s announcement and said she wanted to see a truth and reconciliation commission on boarding schools in Alaska, similar to one held in Canada.

“Because we have to understand the problem,” she said. “To understand, how do we deal with the problem.”

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