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Search for Remains at Colorado’s Native American Boarding Schools to Proceed Slowly, Respectfully

Today, Fort Lewis’ student population is more than 40% Native American or Alaska Native. The institution prides itself on its diversity, inclusivity and a waiver covering the cost of tuition of any students from federally recognized Native American tribes or Alaska Native villages.

But the college originated more than a century ago as one of the country’s Native American boarding schools — institutions the federal government used to recruit Indigenous children from across the nation in an effort to strip them of their culture and force assimilation.

“There’s a tremendous tension between an institution like Fort Lewis dedicated to helping advance tribal sovereignty and serving diverse students and having a history connected to cultural genocide,” Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus said. “That needs to be talked about and not hid from.”

Bitsóí, fellow academics and tribal leaders are discussing how to move forward following a June announcement by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland calling for a comprehensive review of the Native American boarding school legacy. The action was prompted by the recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s announcement.

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