chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
August 02, 2023

Annual 2023: Facing the truth about Native American boarding schools

“It’s something that tribal communities have always known about and heard stories about – but now it’s time for the truth to come out,” said Beth M. Wright, attorney for the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colorado.

That truth centers on an ugly past involving measures forced upon Native Americans by the U.S. government that is only now coming into focus. Indigenous people have grappled for centuries with the trauma that resulted in countless missing and murdered tribal children. And the horror of the situation is finally being brought to light.

Panelists at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting program “From Cradleboard to Shallow Grave: Boarding Schools, ICWA, and Missing & Murdered Indigenous Persons” will discuss several of these U.S. policies and programs that took children away from their families from the mid 17th to 20th centuries.

The schools, run by the federal, state governments and religious organizations, were designed to assimilate Indigenous children into white society. Tribal families were not given a choice to participate and many young people were just ripped from their loved ones. Many of the abductees never made it back home. Some were deemed as missing, and recently, the remains of many of those young people have been found at former school sites in Canada and the United States.

Panelists will delve into these policies and programs, including the:

  • “Boarding School” era ("Kill the Indian, Save the Man")
  • “Adoption” era, which led to the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Traumas that have led to the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous persons whose abuses are significantly under-reported and under-investigated, while perpetrators go unpunished.

“Understanding the history of federal Indian boarding schools is imperative,” Wright says. “Tribes are addressing what happened to their children in order to ask for accountability and demand accountability from the federal government, the states and church.”

Wright said the panel will also discuss federal Indian boarding schools in Colorado as well as discuss what the tribes are doing to address the boarding schools that took children from tribes in Colorado and what they are doing to help those who have been affected.

The program will offer an overview of what has been done so far to address what has been done about missing and murdered Indigenous children.  “We have not as a country reckoned with this history yet and it’s imperative that we do,” Wright said.

Also on the panel, Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive vice present, Seattle Indian Health board, Sheldon Spotted Elk, senior director at Casey Family Programs, Judicial National Engagement in Denver.

The program, Friday, Aug. 4 from 9-10:30 a.m. will be at the Colorado Convention Center in rooms 201-203.

The program will be moderated by Meredith Drent, chief judge of the Tulalip Tribe Citizens of Osage Nation and the chief judge of the Osage Supreme Court in Tulalip, Wash.

The program is cosponsored by the National Conference of Specialized Court Judges and the ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice.