‘We share responsibility for acknowledging the pain’: Wisconsin issues apology for role in Native American boarding schools

Ho Chunk Flag

ONEIDA — Wisconsin leaders have issued a formal apology for the state’s role in coercing Native American children to attend boarding schools during a more than 100-year-long federal campaign to strip them of their cultural identities and heritage.

Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order Monday — Indigenous Peoples’ Day — formally acknowledging and apologizing for Wisconsin’s involvement with the schools.

“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today. 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,” Evers said. “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.”

According to state officials, at least 10 day and boarding schools operated within Wisconsin between the 1860s and 1970s. Thousands of Native American children attended schools in Wisconsin and hundreds from Wisconsin were sent to schools in places like Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Virginia.

In 1928, investigators condemned conditions in the schools as “grossly inadequate,” and in 1969, as “sterile, impersonal and rigid, with a major focus on discipline and punishment.”

Earlier this year, the remains of more than 1,300 students were discovered at several residential school sites in Canada. The U.S. Department of the Interior announced an investigation into the federal government’s role in the boarding schools after the discovery.

Evers’ latest executive order also includes a formal declaration of support for DoI’s investigation and a request that any statewide investigations be done in coordination with Wisconsin’s Native Nations.

This year marks Wisconsin’s third year celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which was first acknowledged in 2019 via an executive order from Gov. Evers.

RELATED: Gov. Evers declares Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Wisconsin through executive order

Wisconsin is home to 11 federally-recognized Native Nations and one federally unrecognized nation including 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, and Brothertown Indian Nation.