May 19, 2022 - News

Iowa Native American boarding schools part of "heartbreaking" report

A photo of a Native American boarding school in Iowa.

The Industrial School in Toledo was built "to educate students in the ways of the white," according to a historic account from the State Historical Society of Iowa. Photo courtesy of the State Historical Society of Iowa

A federal report released this month found Native American children were removed from homes, severely mistreated and, in some cases, died at more than 400 boarding schools across the U.S. between 1819 and 1969.

Why it matters: The Interior Department says the report is the first comprehensive inventory of the federally operated schools documenting the trauma and consequences caused by the U.S.' cultural eradication effort.

Why now: The 2021 discovery of Indigenous children's remains at a former Canadian residential school site put renewed attention on America's history of Native American genocide, Axios' Shawna Chen writes.

  • U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland authorized the investigation last year.

What they found: Care of children in the boarding school system was "grossly inadequate," according to the report.

  • Overcrowding, malnourishment, as well as rampant physical, sexual and emotional abuse were common.
  • Cultural and religious practices were barred, as was the use of Native languages.

Flashback: European-American missionaries traveled to Iowa before it became a state to teach English and Christianity to Native Americans, according to Iowa PBS.

  • Native American boarding schools operated in Iowa between the late 1830s and 1911, according to the Interior report.

What they're saying: The findings are important as part of ongoing work to preserve tribal languages and invest in survivor-focused services, Haaland said in a statement released with the report, which she described as "heartbreaking."

  • Buffalo told Axios it's also helping to launch dialogue and foster better understanding of Native American history and culture.

What's next: A second volume of the report is in the works.

  • A list of marked and unmarked burial sites at the schools and further investigation of their legacy are among the identified next steps.
Data: BIA; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

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