Native Americans Share Trauma of Arizona Boarding Schools

January 21, 2023

LAVEEN VILLAGE, Ariz. (AP) — During seventh grade at Phoenix Indian School, Pershlie Ami signed up to go on what the school called an “outing” — promoted as opportunities for Native American students to earn spending money off campus.

They were opportunities — for cheap labor.

Ami said most people have no idea that the school staff would send students out to work, often doing menial tasks, for strangers whose backgrounds weren’t checked.

“A family came and picked me up and took me to their home. The task that they wanted me to do was pick up dog poop in their house,” Ami said during a listening session Friday in the Gila River Indian Community just south of Phoenix overseen by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

The session is part of a yearlong “Road to Healing” tour for victims and survivors of abuse at government-backed boarding schools. It is the fourth stop for the nation’s first and only Native American Cabinet secretary after previous stops in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Michigan.

The Estrella Mountains backdrop the grounds of the Gila Crossing Community School, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, at the in Laveen, Ariz. The school on the Gila River Indian Reservation was hosting a “Road to Healing” event, part of a year-long tour across the country to provide Indigenous survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants an opportunity to share their experiences. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Ami, who’s Hopi, is now 67 and living in nearby Laveen. She still remembers vehemently refusing to clean the house — and the fallout.

“I got severely punished for not doing what that family had asked me to do. I was never allowed to go out on another outing,” she said. “Then I started to wonder what happened to some of these kids that went out on these outings, that nobody ever followed up on them.”

Ami was one of several people who spoke during Haaland’s visit to Arizona before a large audience that included Gov. Katie Hobbs and Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego.

Several testimonies addressed issues in addition to abuse, such as losing one’s culture and language. The session took place in the multipurpose room of Gila Crossing Community School, where artwork and banners reflected the heritage of the local tribe.

“This is one step among many that we will take to strengthen and rebuild the bonds with the Native communities that federal Indian boarding school policies set out to break,” Haaland said before the session.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support the schools. The stated goal was to “civilize” Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, which was often carried out through abusive practices.

In Arizona alone, there were 47 federal Indian boarding schools — and that number does not even include the religious and private institutions that received federal funding to run schools.

Residents of Gila River Indian Community listen during a “Road to Healing” event, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, at the Gila Crossing Community School in Laveen, Ariz. The “The Road to Healing,” is a year-long tour across the country to provide Indigenous survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants an opportunity to share their experiences. (AP Photo/Matt York)

“My ancestors and many of yours endured the horrors of the Indian boarding school assimilation policies carried out by the same department I now lead,” Haaland said. “This is the first time in history that a United States Cabinet secretary comes to the table with a shared trauma. That is not lost on me.”

Haaland has prioritized publicly examining the trauma caused by these schools. In May, the Interior Department released a first-of-its-kind report pointing out 408 schools the federal government supported that stripped Native Americans of their cultures and identities. At least 500 children are known to have died at some of the schools. But when more research is done, that statistic is likely to rise.

A majority of the speakers were descendants of boarding school survivors. They shared how their parents had a hard time learning how to be good parents because they were separated from their own — some at a very young age. Ami, whose father also went to a boarding school, remembered how he would refer to himself as “just a dumb Indian.”

“I think he did eventually get rid of that image of being ‘a dumb Indian,’” Ami said. “But he never stopped using that phrase in reference to himself.”

The vulnerability of victims has spurred tears at all of these sessions. However, Deborah Parker, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and a member of the Tulalip Tribes, said there’s a feeling of hope, too.

“There’s a sense of encouragement. Yes, we can finally tell our stories and maybe we can begin to heal,” Parker said. “Those tears help cleanse emotions that we’ve been keeping inside of us for sometimes generations.”

Congress is planning to reintroduce legislation to establish a boarding school “truth and healing commission,” according to Parker. It would be similar to one established in Canada in 2008. If passed, it would have a broader scope than the Interior Department’s investigation into federally run boarding schools and subpoena power.

Meanwhile, a second report is pending in the school investigation launched by Haaland, who is a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico. It will focus on burial sites, the schools’ impact on Indigenous communities and also try to account for federal funds spent on the troubled program.

By TERRY TANG The Associated Press


WASHINGTON  — Donald Trump told a group of evangelicals they “cannot afford to sit on the sidelines” of the 2024 election, imploring them at one point to “go and vote, Christians, please!" Trump also endorsed displaying the Ten Commandments in schools and elsewhere while speaking to a group of politically influential evangelical Christians in Washington on Saturday.

Top Stories


A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.


Alberto, Season’s First Named Tropical Storm, Dumps Rain on Texas and Mexico, Which Reports 3 Deaths

TAMPICO, Mexico (AP) — Tropical Storm Alberto rumbled toward northeast Mexico early Thursday as the first named storm of the season, carrying heavy rains that left three people dead but also brought hope to a region suffering under a prolonged, severe drought.

ATHENS - Several years of bolstering Greece’s firefighting capacity hasn’t diminished the annual summer spectacle of fires across the country - again in a sustained heatwave - as blazes broke out across the country, one near Athens being arson.

ATHENS - Greeks work more hours than anyone in the 27-member European Union - and even the United States where Greeks say people “live to work” - but now many workers in Greece’s private sector on July 1 will face a six-day 48-hour work week.

ATHENS - After outrage over a fire started on the island of Hydra when fireworks were launched from a yacht into a forested area, 13 crew members were arrested and appeared before a prosecutor, where they denied any wrongdoing.

ATHENS - As Greece’s economy has recovered from a devastating 2010-18 financial and austerity crisis - but still seeing many households not benefiting - the country needs to bring in 180,00 foreign workers to till the fields and fill agricultural jobs, exporters said.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.