Native Americans demand accountability for a federal policy that aimed to erase Indigenous culture.

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Forced into Federal Boarding Schools as Children, Native Americans Confront the Past

Producer: Sarah Weiser
Co-Producer: Gabrielle Glaser
Editor: Anne Checler

Native American communities are confronting the legacy of federal policies designed to assimilate them and erase their culture. For decades, families were ruptured as Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and communities and sent to faraway government-run boarding schools. Survivors recall the abuse and exploitation they endured in a setting where their language and traditions were prohibited. They are demanding that the government be held accountable for its role.

Between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. government, with help from religious groups, operated or supported over 400 boarding schools across the country aimed at assimilating Native Americans into white culture.

Dennis Decoteau, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, was 11 when the Bureau of Indian Affairs removed him from his home and took him to the Wahpeton Indian Boarding School. "I wrote down a couple of words when tried to describe my experience there," he told Retro Report. "Abuse. Neglect. Bullying. Torture, and pain."

Last year, the Interior Department, led for the first time by a Native American, Deb Haaland, announced the findings of an investigation into the abuses in the. boarding school system. The report is the first step, officials say, toward bringing accountability for a policy that has affected Native American families across generations.

“I want America to be aware of what happened to us, said Denise Lajimodiere, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, who has studied the boarding school system. "I call it America's best-kept secret.”

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