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City Council Passes Juarez’s Resolution Recognizing Historical Trauma of Indian Boarding Schools

The resolution supports Sec. of the Interior Deb Haaland’s Truth and Healing Commission

Councilmember Debora Juarez (District 5, North Seattle), Chair of the Council’s Public Assets and Native Communities Committee, sponsored Resolution 32018, supporting the U.S. Department of Interior’s Indian Boarding School Initiative and the Truth and Healing Commission, a resolution that the Council passed this afternoon. The new federal effort will work with tribal nations and organizations to investigate the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of Indian boarding schools and possible burial sites at those locations. The American Bar Association passed a similar resolution earlier this month. 

“The world reacted in horror when a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children were found in Canada at a former Indian boarding school – but this is a shared trauma Indigenous families know too well,” said Councilmember Juarez. “Our federal government must acknowledge this history, all of us must, so we can begin the process of healing for the families whose relatives never returned and for the children who were stolen. We must uncover the truth so we can finally bring the children back home to their tribal communities where they can rest in peace and families can finally have closure.”

Indian boarding schools were created through the Indian Civilization Fund Act of 1819, which sought to forcibly remove Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian Native children from their families, strip them of their language and culture, and religious beliefs, and force them to assimilate into non-Indian culture, through federally funded, Christian-denomination schools. 

At the boarding schools, students experienced cruel and inhumane treatment. Students were required to adopt Anglo names and prohibited from speaking their indigenous languages. The children were subjected to harsh discipline and often experienced physical and sexual violence. The conditions at the schools were often abysmal, and students suffered from poor sanitation and malnutrition.

Federal policy aimed to isolate the children from their family and culture. John B. Riley, Superintendent of Indian Schools, described the government’s intention for sending Indian children to off-reservation boarding schools saying “only by complete isolation of the Indian child from his savage antecedents can he be successfully educated.”

By 1926, nearly 83 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native school-aged children were taken and enrolled in Indian boarding schools, including boarding schools across Washington State. 

The resolution supports the work of the government to identify all records related to the over 367 Indian boarding schools that were established in the U.S. in order to show the scope and impact of Indian boarding schools and how they contributed to cultural genocide. 

The resolution builds on legislation Juarez previously passed, including directing the City to review and improve its methodology for collecting data regarding American Indians and Alaska Natives; and adding a culturally attuned police liaison position to investigate unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous people. 

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