President of First Alaskans Institute testifies at committee hearing on federal boarding schools
The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held an oversight hearing on the first volume of the Federal Boarding School Initiative’s investigative report. The report was released to the public in May. It detailed the initial findings of the Department of the Interior’s investigation into Indian boarding schools.
There were 408 residential schools across the United States created to assimilate Native American children with “systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies,” according to the report.
La Quen Náay Liz Medicine Crow, President of the First Alaskans Institute, testified at the hearing.
“I sit here before you as the granddaughter of a survivor. Her name was Mona Jackson. I wear her regalia here today because I wanted to bring her with me. And I wanted to become a vessel for her voice,” Medicine Crow said.
At the hearing, Sen. Lisa Murkowski asked Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland about resources for those attempting to have loved ones’ remains repatriated back to Alaska.
She said the report highlights schools across 37 states, including 21 in Alaska.
“Twenty-one of those schools were located in Alaska. The sexual abuse, violence, malnutrition, solitary confinement, forced manual labor, untreated diseases, unreported deaths, and disappearances documented in this report, make it very, very difficult to read. And we know it just scratches the surface, unfortunately, of what actually happened,” Murkowski said.
The report included schools run or funded by the United States government and left out different programs run by religious organizations. There were thousands of other assimilation programs like orphanages and day schools, according to the report.
Murkowski asked Medicine Crow whether she thought the scope was too narrow.
“I do not think that we have an accurate number yet of the institutions that were in Alaska,” Medicine Crow said.
Medicine Crow pointed to the history of Alaska Native youth being sent out of state to boarding schools and to punitive asylums, like the Morningside Institute in the Lower 48.
“And so figuring out this entire kind of ecosystem of assimilative process is really critical. And I think that a very strict and narrow definition will limit our ability to really know the full story,” she said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, proposed the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Policies Act in response to the committee’s work.