Interior Secretary Deb Haaland will visit Anchorage later this month to hear from Alaska Natives and their descendants about difficulties endured in the federal Indian boarding school system.
The Sunday, Oct. 22 meeting is part of the “Road to Healing” tour, an effort by the U.S. Interior Department to raise awareness of the problematic history and legacy of Indian boarding school policies on Indigenous communities, the agency said Friday.
Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary, will be joined by Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland.
The meeting follows the release of a first-volume report last year by the agency that shed light on how the schools “produced intergenerational trauma” that eroded Indigenous family ties and tribal communities. The federal government operated more than 400 of the schools between 1819 and 1969, including at 25 sites in Alaska.
The report found that the boarding school system prevented children from engaging in their Native language, religion and cultural practices. Hundreds of Indigenous children died at just 19 schools. That number could rise to tens of thousands of children as the investigation continues, the agency said.
The report called for efforts to compile a permanent oral history of the legacy of boarding schools. Haaland and Newman have already visited several states on the healing tour.
At the Oct. 22 meeting, trauma-informed support will be available, the agency said. A location has not yet been disclosed for the event.
The meeting falls the day after the close of Alaska Federation of Natives convention, an annual event that operates as a forum for debate and policy development among Alaska Native communities and also features cultural presentations and events. This year’s convention starts Oct. 19 at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage.
Haaland is scheduled to speak at the AFN meeting on Friday, Oct. 20, according to a draft agenda.
It’s possible Haaland might appear in person, rather than by videoconference, said Ben Mallott, vice president of external affairs for the organization, on Friday.
Haaland visited Alaska in May, joining First Lady Jill Biden in Bethel to tout federal investments in fiber broadband in remote regions.
Haaland also visited Alaska in 2022 on a trip that included a stop in the village of King Cove, on the Alaska Peninsula about 600 miles southwest of Anchorage. Later, she reversed course on the Trump-era approval of the King Cove road land exchange, but has committed to pursuing another plan to build a road.
The Interior Department plays a critical role in Alaska, overseeing more than half the land and employing more than 2,500 people in the state, through offices such as the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.