WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior on Sept. 30 announced it would begin tribal consultations as the next step of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of U.S. boarding school policies. 

In June, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the initiative directing the DOI, under the supervision of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, to prepare a report detailing available historical records, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites, relating to the federal boarding school program in preparation for future action.

In letters to tribal leaders on Sept. 30, the DOI invited tribal governments, Alaska Native corporations and Native Hawaiian organizations to provide feedback on key issues for inclusion in the DOI’s report and help lay the foundation for future site work to protect potential burial sites and other sensitive information. 

“I launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to begin the long healing process that our country must address in order to build a future we can all be proud to embrace,” Haaland said. “As we move forward, working with tribal nations is critical to addressing this legacy with transparency and accountability. Tribal consultations are at the core of this long and painful process to address the inter-generational trauma of Indian boarding schools and to shed light on the truth in a way that honors those we have lost and those that continue to suffer trauma.”

Newland said engaging tribes is a “necessary step” as the DOI sheds light on what happened at federal boarding schools and charts a “path forward.”

“These conversations will not be easy, but they are critical as we truly investigate the legacy that these institutions left behind,” he said.  

To facilitate discussion during the consultations, participants are requested to address the following topics:

· Appropriate protocols on handling sensitive information in existing records; 

· Ways to address cultural concerns and handling of information generated from existing records or from potential site work activities;

· Potential repatriation of human remains, including cultural concerns and compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act;

· Future policy and procedure implementation to protect burial sites, locations, confidential information and culturally sensitive information;

· Management of sites of former boarding schools; 

· Privacy issues or cultural concerns to be identified as part of the Initiative; and

· Other issues the DOI should address in its review. 

Formal consultations mark a new phase in the ongoing work of this initiative, the DOI states. The department also states that agency staff are compiling decades of files and records to facilitate a proper review to organize documents, identify available and missing information and ensure that records systems are standardized.

The DOI also states it is building a framework for how it will partner with outside organizations to guide the next steps of review. In addition, leaders are working with the Indian Health Service to develop culturally appropriate support resources for those who might experience trauma resulting from the initiative. This work will build towards the submission of a final written report on the investigation to Haaland by April 1.

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