KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time, a new congressional report documents abuses and deaths at so-called Indian boarding schools across the United States, including schools in Kansas and Missouri.
The Department of the Interior this week released that report as part of an investigation into the U.S. government’s practice of trying to forcibly assimilate Native children and separate them from their parents.
The report detailed 53 schools that had marked or unmarked burial sites and found 500 deaths in 19 of the schools, although the actual number of deaths is likely to be much higher.
One of the schools named in the report is Shawnee Indian Mission Manual Labor School in Fairway, Kansas.
“There was profiteering off of the labor of these children,” said Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Indian Tribe.
Barnes testified Thursday before Congress about the report and in support of House Resolution 5444, which would establish a “Truth and Healing Commission” to investigate the impacts of the boarding schools.
Barnes said the legislation is necessary because there were multiple agencies involved with running the schools and not all of them are cooperative in the search for answers.
“The folks that ran the Shawnee Mission Manual Labor School don’t return my calls, but I can get the Archdiocese on the phone. The Pope apologized, so yes this bill is necessary. 5444 is necessary because we have to have subpoena power.”
The legislation could bring answers and acknowledgement of the horrors that children faced at the schools.
Dr. Ramona Klein of the Tuttle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians was removed from her home and forced into a re-education camp in North Dakota.
“I remember seeing my mom crying as she stood and watched six of her eight children being placed on a big green bus and being taken to Fort Totten Indian Boarding School in Fort Totten, North Dakota. That image is forever imprinted in my mind and in my heart,” she said.
While at the camp, she said she had her hair chopped off and had her scalp fine combed with kerosene, under the assumption that she had head lice.
“I am a real human being, who was placed in a boarding school away from my parents when I was 7 years old. I am now almost 75 years old, and that experience has impacted my entire life,” she said.
It’s unclear if there are remains of children on the property of Shawnee Indian Mission Manual Labor School, but Barnes is hopeful that the legislation could help track down some of the children that never came home from there.
“This is not about us assigning blame. It’s not about us finger pointing,” Barnes said. “It’s not about us shaming any living person alive in Kansas. There’s no one alive that’s to blame for this. However, there are stories that need to be told. There’s dead children that we need to find. We need to find their stories.”