The ACLU of Montana is profoundly disturbed by the recent reports in Canada of unmarked mass gravesites at currently 6 of the 139 Indian boarding schools. Over 1,300 children and innumerable future generations were taken by the racist, genocidal settler-colonial project of Canada. Moreover, the Indigenous staff members of the ACLU of Montana remain resolute and express love and solidarity to the First Nations community members after the most recent revelation of 751 children buried at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School in Cowessess Indian Reserve No. 73, Saskatchewan, Canada, and 182 children at the site of the St. Eugene’s Mission Residential School in Cranbrook, Canada.  

On June 22nd, in response to the events in Canada, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a comprehensive review of the “’inter-generational impact of Indian boarding schools [within the United States] to shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past, no matter how hard it will be,’” with an emphasis on potential burial sites.  

As a non-profit in a state where over 16 Indian boarding schools were built and managed, the ACLU of Montana welcomes an effort by the Department of the Interior, alongside Indigenous communities, to survey the painful practices and policies and begin to redress the horrific violence and trauma of the boarding schools. This report, to be completed by April 2022, is an important part of a much wider effort to confront the historical and contemporary violence Indigenous communities face and will exist as further evidence of the need for dramatic policy change on issues impacting Indigenous people. Indigenous Montanans confront various forms of racist violence including poverty, policing, incarceration, Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women, girls, and Two-spirit individuals, inequities in housing, employment, schooling, and challenges to tribal and identity sovereignty.  

“The generational trauma created by boarding schools can still be felt in Indigenous communities throughout the US,” said Angeline Cheek, ACLU Indigenous Justice Organizer. “Many of the elders who went to boarding schools have a fear of practicing their ancestral culture as a result of the punishments they would receive in these schools. The report commissioned by Deb Haaland will be a start to addressing this trauma and we hope will begin the healing process.” 

The ACLU of Montana remains committed to fighting and organizing alongside Indigenous community members and nations. We hope the Interior’s report brings a modicum of solace and provides opportunities to heal, empower, resist, and ultimately lead to justice and freedom.