The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
One child taken from us is one too many.
The rest of the world is processing its shock at the rising number of unmarked graves found at residential schools in Canada. For the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, our deepest wound—the loss of our children—has been ripped open again. Each one of those children represents a bloodline stolen from us—a laughing, breathing, growing family that should have spread out across the generations. This is the truth that we mourn.
Every family has its own story of separation, loss, and trauma. At the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), we are committed to revealing the truth about the devastation of the federal Indian boarding school policy.
In June, when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland shared her family’s story and promised that the federal government would investigate the troubling legacy of boarding schools, we became hopeful as this was the first time the U.S. has formally acknowledged this policy and committed to investigating its impacts.
The abuse, trauma, and death of our children will no longer be hidden.
Uncovering all of the generational suffering inflicted upon us comes with immense pain. With every new headline, many of us are retraumatized and triggered. We know trauma lives within our bodies and is passed down intergenerationally through our DNA as blood memory.
The consequences of this historical trauma caused by Indian boarding schools has been disastrous for our communities, leading to the loss of languages, culture, and traditions, contributing to disparities in health, education, and economics, elevated rates of chronic diseases such as PTSD, depression, and diabetes.
Emotional and mental distress have led to cycles of abuse and high rates of addiction, suicide, and sexual violence across Indian Country today. Yet, despite attempted genocide, our people are strong and resilient, and we persist.
This is why The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) has been advocating for mental health and traditional healing resources to be put in place for survivors, their descendants, and our communities as this process of truth-telling begins.
Community-led healing efforts for every tribal nation and urban Indian community will be crucial going forward. When our First Nations, Inuit and Métis relatives in Canada had their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, regional hearings were held to collect testimony from survivors and descendants. Measures were in place to care for the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those who testified and witnessed.
In the U.S., many unhealed wounds are being ripped open, thus the need to take great care of our survivors and descendants. The highest level of care should be used when interviewing survivors and descendants about boarding school abuses. Mental health professionals as well as traditional healers should be made available for support.
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) has always advocated for Indigenous and community-led healing so that healing initiatives can be culturally relevant.
True healing from the loss of life, language, culture, and community connection that occurred during the assimilative boarding school era will need to be done in a way that honors the traditions and values of each tribal nation.
We know that healing is possible through our traditional medicines, language, ceremony, song and dance.
We are taking steps towards healing every time we come together. Healing can take place at an individual level as well as for a family, community, and nation. Healing will take time—this historical trauma has been with us for generations.
An elder once said that healing meant that something was made whole again, and we know that will look different for each individual, family, and community.
Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart has said that healing starts with confronting the trauma and understanding it. We are hopeful that the U.S. has finally stepped foot on the path of confronting the harmful Indian boarding school policy and seeking to understand it so we can heal for our collective future.
Most importantly, we must not ignore the necessity of pausing and grieving in this moment. A moment that is marked by our collective pain, mourning, anger and the deep longing for justice.
Our healing begins by taking the time to care for each other in the ways that they tried to strip away from us. Support our elders during this time. Go to ceremony. Sing and dance and laugh to honor our ancestors who were forbidden to do all of those things.
And keep demanding justice.
When our children were stolen away from their families and communities, the world looked away.
We must not let this happen again.