There are a handful of critical lessons to be taken away from the Canadian investigative process.
To understand the true magnitude of this history, it is vital that the US government begin by sourcing and collecting accurate boarding school data on enrollment and other statistics. It will permit the US, in some tiny way, to acknowledge and remember every child who was made to endure this inhumane treatment.
As these discoveries surface and when the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative reaches its conclusion, it’s crucial that when Americans are armed with these findings, they ask — what is next?
There is no point in assessing America’s past and reflecting on reconciliation if it does not lead to substantial action toward justice. Envisioning strategies for healing and reparations is only meaningful if there is momentum behind that vision.
And lest we forget, this process will be deeply traumatic: The discovery of new information about student deaths, the recording of testimony from survivors, the dredging up of painful personal and intergenerational memories of a system meant to eradicate Indigenous culture and identity. But if the work is to be done, if it’s to be part of the collective healing process in America, it needs to be done with transparency.
As it takes on similar work, the US will need to do better. Make this work worthy of its emotional cost, for those who want their stories to be told. Make sure it is seen and heard, so that for once Americans can sit with the gravity of their own history as settlers.
Americans must never forget the ways in which the US government enacted brutal cultural genocide against hundreds of sovereign tribal nations. This history must be incorporated into educational curricula until the boarding schools are as much a part of US history as the Boston Tea Party and World War II.
It is the only way forward.