The ACLU of Montana acknowledges and honors September 30th as the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools. We demand attention and action on the ongoing, pervasive trauma of boarding schools for Indigenous people. For our relatives across the medicine line in the land known as Canada, September 30th is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt Day, where First Nations peoples reflect, heal, and fight for their ancestors and those to come. This year comes with intense pain and heartbreak, as recent searches have revealed over 10,000 children’s bodies on a portion of the country’s 139 residential schools. We humble ourselves to our relatives and offer ourselves to their healing and their fight.

We demand that the United States and Montana tell the complete history of boarding schools, develop culturally authentic and responsive curricula, and redress the devastating racism, disciplinary practices, and policing of Indigenous students in today’s schools. We also demand that the United States and Montana confront what many of us already know - that Indian Boarding Schools were places of intense violence, cruelty, and assimilationist policies, A recent, incomplete report from the Department of the Interior identified over 50 schools and 500 bodies. Moreover, the report explores the profound misery and pain felt by communities, families, and children during the separation and placement of children, the punishments for Indigenous students speaking their languages or engaging in religious and cultural practices, and the trauma passed to descendants through action and genes that inform some of the issues within our communities. 

The report identifies 18 boarding schools in Montana serving thousands of students during their operation. From Browning to Busby, Poplar to St. Ignatius, these lands carry the weight of the tears, pain, and murdered children of Indigenous communities and families, and children. As a state and as a community, none of us will be able to move forward until we confront these schools, their policies and practices, and how Montana’s schools remain harmful and unsafe spaces for Indigenous students. 

As part of our education equity work, including ongoing litigation on Indian Education For All and our 2019 Empty Desks report, the ACLU of Montana supported efforts by the Department of the Interior to begin investigating and acknowledging Indian Boarding schools, spoke upon the initial report’s release, and offered context for the historical and contemporary impacts of Indian Boarding schools in Montana. The ACLU of Montana’s 2019 report found that Indigenous students lost nearly six times the amount of instruction as white students through exclusionary discipline, including, but not limited to out-of-school suspension, and were arrested more than six times as often as white students. Furthermore, we identified the near-complete lack of support staff to help Indigenous students with disabilities or facing mental health crises nor staff to support Indigenous students’ religious, cultural, and spiritual health. These systems of punishment and discipline, the lack of support for culturally responsive and authentic education or to address mental health, often caused or exacerbated by settler-colonialism, represent just some of the ways that the legacy of Indian Boarding Schools remains alive in today’s Montana schools. The state’s failure to implement Indian Education for All in our schools only compounds this harm, pain, and trauma for Indigenous students and others. The state’s failure denies all students the opportunity to understand this violent and painful history through which, we can all commit to building a better world.

As we head into an election and legislative session, we pause on September 30th to think of our communities, our families, and those children who made it out of Boarding Schools and those who did not. We think of those whose love, joy, resilience, fearlessness, and laughter was taken from them and the people whose lives they would have touched. We carry this, and commune in healing through this.

Please take care, give yourself space, and surround yourself with community, medicines, and prayer during this difficult time. 

For advocacy, education, and healing go to:  

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition  
STRONGHEARTS Native Helpline 
Indian Health Service Suicide Prevention and Care Program 
We R Native Resources and Fact Sheet