MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers issued a formal apology Monday for Wisconsin's role in Native American boarding schools, joining with leaders from tribes in the state at an Indigenous Peoples Day event.
Evers signed an executive order that also formally supported the previously announced U.S. Department of Interior investigation into the schools and asked that anything done in Wisconsin be conducted in consultation with the state's tribes.
Wisconsin is home to 11 tribes. Tribal representatives joined with Evers for the announcement in Oneida.
Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the nation. For over 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.
Records show that Wisconsin was home to at least 10 day and boarding schools attended by thousands of American Indian children between the 1860s and 1970s, the governor's office said. Additionally, hundreds of children were also sent from Wisconsin to attend out-of-state schools, the governor's office said.
The lack of available and reliable documentation related to the schools makes it challenging to know the full scope of what happened in Wisconsin, Evers' office said.
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“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today," the Democratic governor said in a statement. “We also have a moral obligation to pursue the truth and to bring these injustices to light in Wisconsin and across our country because that understanding and acknowledgment is essential for accountability and healing.”
Tina Danforth, treasurer for the Oneida Nation Business Committee and former tribal chairperson, said at the event that the process of healing has to begin and part of that is recognizing the history, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“We can’t achieve the cycle of life unless we acknowledge the atrocities,” she said.
The executive order signed by Evers recognizes and apologizes “for the tragedies inflicted upon Native American communities through the former federal Indian boarding school policies.”
In 2019, Evers signed an executive order declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in Wisconsin, following similar moves in other states away from recognizing it as Columbus Day. It remains a federal holiday.