News

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Announces Boarding School Initiative

June 22, 2021 – In remarks to the National Congress of American Indians 2021 Mid Year Conference today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.

Today’s announcement is accompanied by a secretarial memo in which Secretary Haaland directs the Department to prepare a report detailing available historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites, relating to the federal boarding school program in preparation for a future site work. This work will occur under the supervision of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.

“The Interior Department will address the inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,” said Secretary Haaland. “I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”

Secretary Haaland recently reflected on the inter-generational trauma created by these policies in an op-ed.

See full press release here.

Christine McLeave of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition added that the legislative proposal for a Boarding School Healing Commission would go forward as a complement to the Department’s initiative.


Canadian Parliament Approves Bill to Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

June 17, 2021 – The Canadian Parliament passed bill C-15 to Implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The U.N. passed the Declaration in 2007, after decades of work by Indigenous peoples around the world. The Declaration sets global minimum standards for the “survival, dignity and well-being” of Indigenous peoples.

Canada and the United States were two of the four “no” votes against the Declaration in 2007 but, by 2016, both had agreed to uphold it in some fashion.

The Implementation Act requires the federal government to “take all measures necessary” to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the provisions of the UN Declaration. The Act also requires that a National Action Plan to implement the Declaration through law, policy and programs be developed and adopted within two years.

Cheryl Casimer, First Nations Summit political executive said, “The Implementation Act … does not create new rights. What it requires is concrete, meaningful, and timely action to ensure that Canada finally lives up to its obligations under Treaties, the Constitution and international law.”

So far, the U.S. has taken no action toward implementation.

See the public statement of the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


Unmarked Children’s Graves Found Near Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, Canada

May 29, 2021 – More than 200 Indigenous children’s remains have been found by using ground-penetrating radar, near a former residential school in Kamloops, about 160 miles northeast of Vancouver. The institution, the biggest residential school in Canada, operated under the auspices of the Catholic Church from 1890 to 1969 as part of the national government’s policy to “assimilate” Indigenous children.  As in the U.S., Indigenous families in Canada were required to send their children to state-funded residential schools until as late as 1996.  According to an Associated Press story on May 29, about 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were sent to these schools.  About six thousands may have died.

In the U.S., unmarked graves were found in 2016 around the Chimewa Indian School near Salem, Oregon, using a similar ground radar method, Mary Pember reports for Indian Country Today. Marsha Small, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, the researcher who located the graves, believes there may be “hundreds” of graves yet to be found, based on her assessment of the “disparate placement” of the remains.

So far, the U.S. has done nothing to acknowledge responsibility for the deaths – and intergenerational damage – caused by the government-funded boarding schools. (But see announcement of Department of Interior’s Federal Boarding School Initiative on June 22, above.)


Water for Oil

June 18, 2021 – The Minnesota government has issued a “dewatering permit” to Enbridge to “displace” 5 billion  gallons of water during the construction of Line 3 through the state.  The dewatering permit — which increases allowable “dewatering”

from 500 million gallons without consultation with the White Earth tribal government — will directly impact the water available to the tribe for their annual wild rice harvest. If the U.S. — or the state of Minnesota — had committed to comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, the government agencies would have been well-versed in Article 19, which recognizes a right to a tribe’s “free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”  And Article 29, which acknowledges that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources.” 


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