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Officials Will Search Former Federal Boarding Schools, Including In California, For Childrens’ Graves

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland speaks into two microphones from behind a podium at the Queen theater. Haaland wears a turquoise necklace and silver earrings with a navy blue suit.
Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland, speaks at the Queen theater on December 19, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
(Photo by Joshua Roberts
Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced an effort to search former federal boarding schools, including in California, for burial sites of Native American children.

The schools operated for almost a century, and forcibly took Native American children from their homes in an attempt to impose a different culture. Many children died in the schools, and many were abused.

Brenda Child, a professor of American Studies and American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota, said her grandmother was among the thousands of Indigenous children sent to the schools.

“The idea of the government boarding schools was that Native students were supposed to be retrained, re-educated,” Child said. “They would not speak their tribal languages, hopefully they would convert to Christianity and they would receive a kind of basic education.”

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California was home to Sherman Indian High School, which opened as a government assimilation school for Native Americans in 1892. The school was then called Perris Indian School and was located in Perris, California.

The institution was later relocated to Riverside, California in 1903 where it opened under the new name The Sherman Institute.

The effort to uncover graves of children forced into such institutions is similar to an initiative undertaken in Canada, which found the remains of up to 751 people, likely mostly children, at an unmarked grave in a defunct school in the province of Saskatchewan.