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Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

The Department of the Interior and the National Indian Boarding School Healing Coalition have reached a agreement to share records and information in support of the agency’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

Under a memorandum of understanding announced Dec. 7, the department and the coalition agreed to meet regularly as the department creates a report ordered by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland detailing historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries and burial sites, related to the federal Indian boarding school program. The report is due April 1.

“The first step to healing is acknowledging the painful truths of federal boarding school policies and gaining a fuller understanding of their impacts,” Haaland, Laguna Pueblo and the first Indigenous cabinet member, said in a statement.

“Today’s action will help strengthen our efforts to gather necessary information and records so that we can unravel the threads of trauma that linger in Indigenous communities,” she said. “As we continue to allow federal boarding school survivors and their families an opportunity to be heard, I am hopeful that we can heal and work together for a future that we will all be proud to embrace.”

Read more about boarding schools:
Deaths at Chemawa
A Mother's Prayer: Bring the children home
St. Mary's Mission: 'This place is the Devil'
Are your ancestors on the list?

The authority of the Interior Department is limited, however, and the coalition continues to call for passage of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, Ho-Chunk, and in the Senate by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts. If signed into law, the commission would be empowered to investigate all federal agencies, churches that operated schools and private enterprises that benefited from child labor through the schools.

No funding will be exchanged under the memorandum. The work of the initiative is funded through existing appropriations.

“The coalition’s research has been funded mostly by private funders and donors but no federal grants,” said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, chief executive of the coalition and a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation.

“We look forward to working with the Department of the Interior to finally get information to the survivors, descendants and relatives of those who experienced these schools.”

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