OTTAWA — Canada is open to providing archival data on residential schools to the U.S. government to help with its recently announced investigation into Indigenous boarding schools, the Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister said Wednesday.
Carolyn Bennett said the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has been collecting data on the burial sites of residential schools and cemetery registries since 2016, and some of its findings would be helpful for the U.S.
"Obviously we would make that resource available should (Interior Secretary Deb Haaland) want to avail herself of it," Bennett said.
Haaland announced Tuesday that Washington will investigate its role in the boarding schools and work to uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of policies that took hundreds of thousands of children from their families and communities.
She said the U.S. investigation will include compiling and reviewing records to identify past boarding schools, locate known and possible burial sites at or near those schools and uncover the names and tribal affiliations of students.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said both Canada and the U.S. share a history of residential and boarding schools where Indigenous children where abused.
"It's a shared stain on our respective histories," he said.
"In certain respects, we're ahead of the U.S., in the truth part. You could take any position on how we are ahead on reconciliation."
The recent finding of what are believed to be 215 children’s remains buried at the site of a Kamloops, B.C., residential school has magnified interest in the troubling legacy in both the U.S. and Canada.
Haaland, who is the first Native American to serve as a U.S. cabinet secretary, met two weeks ago with Miller and Bennett to discuss several topics including residential schools and combating violence against Indigenous women and girls.
"Secretary Haaland was moved to tears when we met her about the events in Kamloops," Miller said. "I believe that she will move quite aggressively on it."
The day before her meeting with Miller and Bennett, Haaland wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post saying the Kamloops finding made her "sick to (her) stomach" and that many Americans may not know that the U.S. pursued a similar policy to residential schools.
She wrote that the first step toward justice for Native Americans is acknowledging painful truths and understanding their effects.
"I am a product of these horrific assimilation policies. My maternal grandparents were stolen from their families when they were only 8 years old and were forced to live away from their parents, culture and communities until they were 13," she wrote.
A member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo Native American tribe, Haaland outlined the investigation into Indigenous boarding schools while addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians during the group’s mid-year conference Tuesday.
She said the process will be long, difficult and painful and will not undo the heartbreak and loss endured by many families.
“To address the intergenerational impact of Indian boarding schools and to promote spiritual and emotional healing in our communities, we must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past no matter how hard it will be,” Haaland said.
Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indigenous boarding schools across the nation.
For over 150 years, Indigenous children in the U.S. were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2021.
— With files from The Associated Press
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press