Report identifies 12 Indian boarding schools in North Dakota from 1876 to 1961

Published: May. 12, 2022 at 9:12 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The Department of the Interior has published findings from an investigation into the Federal Indian boarding school system. For the first time, the department has developed an official list of Federal Indian boarding schools.

After unmarked gravesites were discovered at Indian boarding schools across Canada last year, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland ordered an investigation into American Indian boarding schools. According to the report, which was published this month, there were 12 schools that operated at 14 locations around North Dakota from as early as 1876 to as late as 1961.

The findings of the report are troubling, although not unexpected, for a number of North Dakotans.

“It’s a tough issue to approach, I’ll say that. There was a lot of trauma and there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen, in regards to what happened to our elders in residential schools,” said Nathan Davis, executive director of the Indian Affairs Commission.

The report identifies 408 federal boarding schools across 37 states and then-territories. They also identified marked and unmarked burial sites at 53 different schools, none of which were found in North Dakota.

The 12 schools in North Dakota were located in Bismarck, Wahpeton, and on Spirit Lake, Fort Berthold, Standing Rock, and Turtle Mountain Reservations. The department of the Interior’s criteria for designating boarding schools had four components, including whether they housed students, provided education, received federal funding, and were operational prior to 1969.

Tribal leaders are hopeful the report facilitates a deeper level of understanding for North Dakotans who might not otherwise have known about the history of Indian boarding schools in the state.

“In the state of North Dakota, how do we separate ourselves from past policy that was programmed to historically damage Native Americans at the federal level? How do we become a better partner in identifying that, acknowledging that, and moving forward together, into the future?” said executive director of the Indian Affairs Commission Nathan Davis.

Davis said this report is an important first step in the healing process.

The Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, who oversaw the research, recommends that the investigation be continued, with the goal of identifying all facilities in the Federal Indian boarding school system, and especially all locations of marked and unmarked burial sites.

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