Hearing on boarding schools highlights ‘dark period’ for Native Hawaiians
A congressional hearing on the abuses at the federal Indian boarding school system drew emotional testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill ― a call for more to be done to unearth the abuses against native children.
The unprecedented hearing comes after a U.S. Department of the Interior investigation listed hundreds of boarding schools across America where native children, including Native Hawaiians, were abused and stripped of their culture.
Native Hawaiians are seeking to spread awareness about the dark chapter in history ― as Congress and the federal government are working to acknowledge past wrongs.
“For over a century and a half, the federal government ... forcibly removed indigenous children from their families and communities and many never returned home,” said U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
A federal report showed tens of thousands of native children were stripped of their language and forced to assimilate into white culture from 1819 to 1969 in the federal Indian Boarding School system.
Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, says her grandparents were removed.
“This intentional targeting and removal of native children to achieve the goal of forced assimilation of native people was both traumatic and violent,” said Haaland.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, chair of the Indian Affairs Committee, described the conditions in the boarding homes: “Forced labor, whippings, solitary confinement, withholding food, making older children punish younger children with corporal punishment, unsanitary and overcrowded living conditions.”
“The Indian boarding school was a dark period in our nation’s history and a painful example of how past federal policies failed American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians,” said Schatz.
Norma Wong, of Kalihi, was the Native Hawaiian policy lead for Gov. John Waihee and spoke of how ‘olelo Hawaii was banned.
“My grandmother was banned from the language in her youth and she did not speak it again until two weeks before she passed,” said Wong.
Kamehameha Schools is among seven Hawaii schools listed in the report. It has said it’s “grappling with its own colonial history” while transforming over time to ‘uplift communities through Hawaiian culture-based education.’
List of Hawaii boarding schools:
- Hilo Boarding School
- Industrial and Reformatory School
- Industrial and Reformatory School for Girls
- Kamehameha Schools
- Lahainaluna Seminary
- Mauna Loa Forestry Camp School
- Molokai Forestry Camp School
The U.S. Department of Interior is planning a nationwide “Road to Healing” tour and says it’s aiming for policies that revitalize native health care, mental health, education, languages and cultural practices.