U.S. Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said her department is launching an investigation into the more-than-150-year history of government-run American Indian boarding schools to "uncover the truth about the loss of human life and lasting consequences" of the schools.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary and a former congresswoman from New Mexico, announced the investigation Tuesday during comments to the National Congress of American Indians, and then formally in a news release and a letter to other cabinet heads.
Haaland noted that beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 and running through the 1960s, the U.S. enacted laws and policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. Thousands of young native children were sent to the schools, and researchers say many were abused and never heard from again.
Haaland said the schools were overseen by the Interior Department she now runs, and it is therefore appropriate the department carry out the investigation.
She said, "At no time in history have the records or documentation of this policy been compiled or analyzed to determine the full scope of its reaches and effects. We must uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of these schools."
Such boarding schools gained international attention earlier this year when indigenous tribal leaders in Canada, which had a similar policy, announced the discovery of the unmarked graves of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops residential school for indigenous children. Canada carried out a full investigation into its schools through a truth and reconciliation commission.
In its release, the Interior Department said Canada's process inspired its investigation, with the goal of shedding light on the schools - where they were, who attended them - and to find any remains of children who may have died there.
The department is scheduled to issue a final written report on the investigation in April of 2022.