CLEVELAND — It's a painful part of American history that often goes untold. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. established federally-funded boarding schools, aimed at assimilating hundreds of thousands of Native American children, forcibly taking them from their families and stripping them of their culture.
The horrors were laid bare with the discovery of 215 unmarked graves outside an Indigenous children's school in Canada, which had adopted similar policies as the U.S.
Kimberlee Medicine Horn Jackson is an adjunct professor at Kent State University. She is part of a research team tasked with uncovering the horrific histories at these schools in the U.S.
"We're running against time," she said. "Our elders who went to the boarding schools are crossing over daily. And we're losing the truth of what happened."
There were 357 known boarding schools, many operated by Catholic and Protestant churches. Here, Native children were forced to abandon their language, their traditions and culture. The students' long hair, culturally a point of pride, was cut into short, uniform bowl haircuts.
Jackson says it was ethnic cleansing.
"According to the Geneva Convention on Genocide, the Native American boarding schools fall into all 10 categories of genocide," she said.
But now, a new face leading the way in the top levels of government.
"Now for the first time, this country has a cabinet secretary who is indigenous."
Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to investigate the full scope of U.S. policies and their effects.
"I come from ancestors who endured the horrors of Indian boarding school assimilation policies, carried out by the same policies that I now lead," said Haaland.
Speaking the untold truth. Only until then, can healing begin.
"How can we ever heal... how can we ever do things differently, if we don't take the time to listen to what happened," said Jackson.
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