May 13, 2022 - News

"Heartbreaking" report on Native schools points to Colorado sites

Indian boarding schools in Colorado
Data: BIA; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

A federal study released this week on Native American boarding schools nationwide found Indian students were severely mistreated, and in some instances died, including at five schools in Colorado.

What they found: The Interior Department report says between 1819 to 1969, hundreds of Native children died at the schools. Kids at 408 federal Indian boarding schools endured sexual and physical abuse, manual labor and malnourishment, Axios' Shawna Chen writes.

  • At least 21 children died at a boarding school in Grand Junction, according to research from Colorado Mesa University archaeologist John Seebach, who concluded there may have been more undocumented deaths.
  • The study identified both marked and unmarked burial sites at 53 schools in 37 states and territories.

Details: Most Indian boarding schools in Colorado opened in the late 1880s. At least one stayed open until 1981.

  • Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School in Hesperus (1892-1956)
  • Good Shepherd Industrial School in Denver (1886-1914)
  • Grand Junction Indian School in Grand Junction (1886-1911)
  • Southern Ute Boarding School in Ignacio (1886-1981)
  • Ute Mountain Boarding School in Towaoc (1907-1942)

The schools used assimilation tactics to alter children's identities including forcing students to cut their hair and barring cultural or religious practices, according to the report.

Why now: The study was authorized last year by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland following the 2021 discovery of Indigenous children's remains at a former Canadian residential school site.

What they're saying: "The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies — including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old — are heartbreaking and undeniable," Haaland said in a statement.

What to watch: Efforts are underway to find potential burial sites at Fort Lewis College's former campus in Hesperus, the Denver Post reports.

  • Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland recommended producing a list of marked and unmarked burial sites.
  • He also suggested an investigation into the impact the school system had on American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities.
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