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Interior Secretary Haaland is documenting abuse in federal Indian boarding schools


Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was in South Dakota over the weekend to hear more stories from Native American elders about the abuse they experienced at Indian boarding schools. Haaland is traveling the country to document the abuse that occurred in schools that were run or supported by the federal government. Here's South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Lee Strubinger.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: Seventy-eight-year-old Rosalie Quick Bear attended one of the 31 boarding schools located in South Dakota. The Sicangu Lakota describes being powdered with the pesticide DDT, spending weeks with an untreated broken leg and getting locked in a dark cellar for days. Quick Bear says her experience as a child, as well as other boarding school survivors, was a real-life horror story.

ROSALIE QUICK BEAR: That's how we grew up. That's why we're like we are.

STRUBINGER: Quick Bear says her experience still affects her.

QUICK BEAR: I thought there was no God, just torture and hatred. Sometimes, I am still - to this day, I'm quiet, I'm off away from people because I still can't really feel that love that we're supposed to know as a human being.

STRUBINGER: Quick Bear says she spends every day working on understanding love. One boarding school survivor described getting beaten for stashing half an apple in his pocket. Duane Hollow Horn Bear says a bishop paddled him 50 times on his bare bottom.

DUANE HOLLOW HORN BEAR: He knocked me out with the pain and drug me into the dormitory. I don't know what else he did to me.

STRUBINGER: Another survivor says every boarding school story is similar. Cheryl Angel also spoke.

CHERYL ANGEL: We were treated inhumanely.

STRUBINGER: It's stories like these the Department of Interior is collecting as part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. Deb Haaland is the first Indigenous woman to lead the Interior Department, which helped carry out the boarding school mission. She says the yearlong tour is one step among many.

DEB HAALAND: That we will take to strengthen and rebuild the bonds within native communities that the federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break.

STRUBINGER: Officials have not said what comes next. The initiative hopes to identify marked and unmarked burial sites across the boarding school system and also allow for elders to be heard.

For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Mission, S.D. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lee Strubinger