LAVINE VILLAGE, Arizona (AP) — In seventh grade at Phoenix Indian School, Pershlie Ami signed up to participate in what the school called an “excursion.”
Those were cheap labor opportunities.
Ami said most people don’t think school officials send students to work, often doing simple tasks for strangers whose backgrounds have not been verified.
“A family picked me up and took me home. The job they wanted me to do was pick up dog poop at their house,” Ami said Friday in Phoenix. A listening session at the Gila River Indian community just south of the United States, overseen by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.
This session is part of the annual “Road to Healing” tour for victims and survivors of abuse in government-sponsored boarding schools. After South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Michigan, it is the first and only destination for a Native American minister to visit.
Ami, a Hopi, is now 67 and lives in nearby Laveen. She still remembers her adamant refusal to clean her house, and the fallout.
“I was severely punished for not doing what the family asked me to do. I was never allowed out again,” she said.
Ami was one of several people during Harland’s visit to Arizona who spoke before a large audience, including Governor Katie Hobbs and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Some testimonies addressed issues in addition to abuse, such as losing culture and language. Sessions were held in the Gila Crossing Community School multi-purpose room, with artwork and banners reflecting the heritage of the local tribes.
“This is one of many steps we are taking to strengthen and rebuild ties with indigenous communities that the federal Indian boarding school policy seeks to break,” Harland said before the session. rice field.
Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and policies to establish and support schools. The declared goal was to “civilize” Native Americans, Alaskan Natives, and Native Hawaiians, often through abusive practices.
In Arizona alone, there were 47 federal Indian boarding schools, but that number does not include religious or private institutions that receive federal funding to run the schools.
“My ancestors and many of yours endured the horrors of the assimilation policies of the Indian boarding schools implemented by the same department I now lead,” Harland said. It’s the first time ever that we shared and got to a table, it’s not lost on me.
Harland has made it a priority to publicly investigate the trauma caused by these schools. In May, the Department of the Interior released a first-of-its-kind report noting that 408 federally-supported schools had been stripped of their Native American culture and identity. At least 500 children are known to have died in some schools. But that statistic could rise as more research is done.
Most of the speakers were descendants of boarding school survivors. They shared that they struggled to learn how to be good parents because their parents were separated from them. Ami, whose father also attended boarding school, remembers her calling herself “just a stupid Indian.”
“I think he finally got rid of the ‘dumb Indian’ image,” Ami said. “But he never stopped using the phrase in reference to himself.”
Victims’ vulnerability brought tears to their eyes in all these sessions. But there is hope, says Deborah Parker, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and a member of the Tulalip Tribe.
“I feel encouraged. Yes, we can finally tell our story and maybe we can start healing,” Parker said. “Those tears help cleanse the emotions we’ve trapped inside us for generations.”
According to Parker, Congress plans to reintroduce legislation to establish a boarding school “Truth and Healing Commission”. increase. If passed, it would have broader scope than the Department of the Interior’s investigation into federally run boarding schools and subpoena powers.
Meanwhile, a second report is pending in a school investigation initiated by Harland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo. It focuses on burial grounds, the school’s impact on indigenous communities, and also attempts to account for federal funds spent on problematic programs.
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