Gov. Evers issues apology for Wisconsin’s role in Native American boarding schools

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 11:09 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 11, 2021 at 6:21 PM CDT
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ONEIDA, Wis. (WBAY) - On Indigenous Peoples Day, October 11, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order to formally acknowledge and apologize for “Wisconsin’s historical role in Indian boarding schools.”

The governor made the announcement during a visit to the Oneida Nation.

“For more than a century between the 1860s and 1970s, the U.S. federal government induced and coerced thousands of Native American children from their families and homes, placing them into boarding schools funded by the U.S. government operated by the government and religious organizations. Estimates indicate thousands of children were forced to attend day and boarding schools across the country. Residential schools sought to force assimilation of Native American children by isolating them from their cultural identities, punishing them for speaking their native language or practicing their traditions, prohibiting them from wearing traditional clothing, and requiring children to cut their hair. Investigators condemned conditions in the boarding schools in 1928 as ‘grossly inadequate,’ and, in 1969, as ‘sterile, impersonal and rigid, with a major focus on discipline and punishment,’” reads a statement from the governor’s office.

The words ‘remembrance’ and ‘honor’ were repeated over and over again at Monday morning’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day news conference with Gov. Evers and local tribal leaders. The governor discussing the brutal history of boarding schools during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Kids were taken from their families to attend boarding schools where they were forced to assimilate to white culture and stripped of their cultural identity and traditions,” Gov. Evers said. “Many experienced horrible living conditions impacting their physical and mental health and their well-being. Obviously, this deeply impacted families and communities for generations.”

Available records show there were at least 10 day and boarding schools in Wisconsin. Thousands of Native children were said to have attended those schools. Some were sent to boarding schools in Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia.

“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today,” Gov. Evers continued. “We also have a moral obligation to pursue the truth and to bring these injustices to light in Wisconsin and across our country because that understanding and acknowledgment is essential for accountability and healing. We recognize the trauma inflicted on Native families and communities and the loss of language, culture, and identity and the intergenerational effects these facilities had and still have while honoring the resilience and contributions of Indigenous people to our state and our country.”

“The question is a strong question of what kind of ancestors will we be?” Art Skenandore, principal and athletic director Oneida Nation Middle School and High School, pondered on the significant day. “Is the efforts of today - our language, our culture - the renewal? This morning earlier, we talked with all of our students online about how important it is that we do our language and our culture. No matter what we’re adaptive.”

“My favorite word is Kunolúkwasla’ which is love, relate, compassion, which I always think about when I think about why I’m doing the work that I do,” Jaisah Yelihwanolu Lee, Miss Oneida 2020-2021 who is also a student advocate at Oneida Nation High School, said. Lee just graduated with her masters in social work with an American Indian/Alaska Native concentration from Washington University in St. Louis. “It’s one of our core values and components. I think for me that’s my favorite word.”

Action 2 News reporter Jeff Alexander spoke to Menominee Indian Tribe members who say many of their ancestors suffered traumatic experiences at boarding schools on the reservation and across the country. They say their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories, along with many unmarked graves near where boarding schools once stood, are proof of rampant abuse and neglect.

The executive order also declares Wisconsin’s support for federal investigations in consultation with Native Nations.

“You know we can not erase the past,” Evers highlighted. “But we also can’t let the past be erased.”

Wisconsin is home to these Native Nations:

  • Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Forest County Potawatomi
  • Ho-Chunk Nation
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin
  • Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
  • Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
  • St Croix Chippewa Tribe of Wisconsin
  • Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Tribe
  • Brothertown Indian Nation

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