WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior has announced the launch of an oral history project that will document and make accessible the experiences of the generations of Indigenous children who attended the federal boarding school system. This effort – the first of its kind to be undertaken by the federal government – is part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative launched by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and will ensure stories and experiences that survivors share can be heard by, and learned from, current and future generations. The Department and Smithsonian National Museum of American History are in ongoing discussions about how to support this work.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), which has a proven track record of gathering stories through a survivor-centered protocol, will receive a total of $3.7 million in grant funding. Funding for the grant through the Bureau of Indian Affairs was made possible in part through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which in April 2023 committed $4 million to support the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. NABS has been engaged with the Department since the launch of its initiative to share records and information.
“Creating a permanent oral history collection about the federal Indian boarding school system is part of the Department’s mission to honor its political, trust and legal responsibilities, and commitments to tribes,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “The U.S. government has never before collected the experiences of boarding school survivors, which tribes have long advocated for to memorialize the experiences of their citizens who attended federal boarding schools. This is a significant step in our efforts to help communities heal and to tell the full story of America.”
“This historic project is a lifeline to preserving the voices and memories of Indian boarding school survivors,” said Deborah Parker, NABS Chief Executive Officer. “Many of our ancestors did not have the chance to share their experiences, so NABS is grateful to Secretary Haaland and the Department of the Interior for this support. This will allow us to continue our work in seeking truth and justice, ensuring survivor’s stories are never forgotten, and bringing healing to future generations.”
In May 2022, Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released Volume 1 of the investigative report called for as part of the initiative. The report represented a significant step by the federal government to comprehensively address the facts and consequences of historical federal Indian boarding school policies, which stemmed from the twin goals of cultural assimilation and territorial dispossession of Indigenous peoples through the forced removal and relocation of their children. Volume 2 is expected to be published by the end of 2023.
As part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, and in response to recommendations from the report, Secretary Haaland launched “The Road to Healing.” This year-long commitment to travel across the country is giving Indigenous survivors the opportunity to share their stories and be connected with trauma-informed support. The oral history project announced will build on this effort to create space for survivors.
This project will focus on gathering first-person survivor narratives and establishing an oral history collection. Survivors will have the opportunity to make their interviews available to federal partners, tribal governments, policymakers and researchers, and the public.
The Department will continue its engagement with the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Indian Health Service and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to coordinate trauma-informed survivor-centered support during these engagements.