Above photo: A protester on the way to Cornwall, Ontario. Celia Clarke/NCPR.
Indigenous activists and supporters gather in solidarity with survivors and families of children who died while at Indian residential and boarding schools.
Boston, MA – According to Jean-Luc Pierite, President of the Board of the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), “We want to show our solidarity today with all those internationally observing Orange Shirt Day. We must honor the thousands of children who were forced into residential schools where they suffered and too often died. The governments of Canada and the United States continue to take a disproportionate number of Indigenous children into foster care. These governments further fail to address access to clean water on tribal lands. Canada and the US continue to boost pipelines and other extractive projects. Meanwhile the crisis of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women goes underreported and under-investigated.”
At least 4,000 Indigenous children had been estimated by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have died at Indian residential schools, but those figures were substantially understated. Since May 2021, thousands of suspected unmarked graves believed to hold the remains of Indigenous children have been found at multiple residential and boarding school sites in Canada. Searches are still ongoing, but experts believe that there may be more than 10,000 unmarked graves of children. The US Interior Department has recently begun to review Indian boarding schools, and some school sites are known to have the remains of children, but the work is far from complete. Residential school survivors had testified in the past about deaths at their school and the existence of unmarked graves, but neither Canada nor the US conducted comprehensive searches to find the remains or try to return the children’s remains to their families and communities.
Mahtowin Munro, co-leader of United American Indians of New England (UAINE), said that, “On Orange Shirt Day, we are here to support our Indigenous family across Turtle Island who have suffered trauma as a result of the Indian residential schools that tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend. In truth, we cannot even call these institutions ‘schools.’ Schools should not have graveyards and be places of horror for generations of children. For decades up until the 1990s, thousands of Indigenous children in the US and Canada were routinely stolen from their families, had their hair cut off, were beaten if they spoke their own languages, were taught to be ashamed of who they were, were subjected to horrific experiments as well as physical and sexual abuse. All too many died. These genocidal schools were sanctioned by the Canadian and US governments and often run by churches in the name of ‘Christianizing’ and ‘civilizing’ Indigenous children. But the ultimate goal was to destroy Indigenous families, communities and cultures and to separate Indigenous people from their lands. Those attacks continue with the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care and the possibility that the US Supreme Court will overturn the Indian Child Welfare act. ”
“There are countless residential school survivors and children, nieces and nephews of survivors who live in greater Boston. NAICOB helps to transcribe their experiences. One person in their 50s, for instance, continues to struggle: with fear of speaking their Native language; with fear of talking about the abuses experienced and witnessed; and with feelings of shame that they survived when thousands did not. The fact that these stories are common and continue to be erased is disgraceful. Our stories must be heard. Our relatives must be found and returned,” said Raquel Halsey, Executive Director of NAICOB.
Kisha James, youth organizer for UAINE, added, “We call on the Roman Catholic Church, which operated many of the residential schools, to release all their residential school records that they are withholding, apologize immediately, make reparations from their vast wealth, rescind their Doctrine of Discovery, and stop shielding the nuns and priests who were responsible for the abuse so they can be prosecuted for what they did to Indigenous children. Orange Shirt Day also calls us to confront the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples in the US and Canada and the continued abuse of Indigenous children & women, as well as the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in foster care and high rates of Native deaths in police custody. We are living under a system that does not even honor its treaties with Native nations and forces destructive pipelines through Native lands..”
On May 11, 2022, US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released Volume 1 of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative investigative report. The investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states or then territories, including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. The investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the school system. As the investigation continues, the Interior Department expects the number of identified burial sites to increase.
As part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Interior Secretary Haaland has launched “The Road to Healing.” This year-long commitment to travel across the country will allow American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories, help connect communities with trauma-informed support, and facilitate collection of a permanent oral history.