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Omaha Tribe member speaks about U.S. investigation into Native American boarding schools

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 10:50 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Just weeks after Canada discovered the unmarked graves of more than 200 indigenous children on the site of a former boarding school, the United States is making a move to uncover its own dark history.

Hundreds of thousands of children were ripped away from their families and forced to assimilate into western culture.

Rene Sans Souci’s mother, Alice, was one of them.

“To me, by her sharing her stories then it was a story of survival,” Sans Souci said. “She did the best she could do in order to be able to survive and therefore help us her children.”

Her mother is the survivor of one school in Nebraska and another in Minnesota, where brutality, neglect, and even death ran rampant. The schools were designed to strip children of their culture.

“She said ‘I had really long thick braids, and they cut them both,” Renee recalled from her mother’s experience. “She said, ‘I was just standing in shock as I was looking down on the ground, and my braids were laying there.’ ”

Sans Souci’s mother was raised by her grandmother who managed to escape the brutalities.

“You know when the officials came, they were stealing little children in the 1800s. Her grandmother was a little girl when they came for her,” said Sans Souci, noting that her family was quick thinking. “They hid her away under buffalo ropes to save her, to keep her from being taken from government officials.”

Sans Souci believes, without doubt, that saved her great-grandmother’s life.

“That is what I feel saved her grandmother, so her grandmother wasn’t forced to go through all the brutalities our ancestors went through.”

Tuesday, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland — the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary — announced an investigation into the boarding school system that lasted more than a century.

“We must uncover the truth of the loss of life at these boarding schools,” said Secretary Haaland, who is the first indigenous person to serve in a cabinet position. “We must shed light on the unspoken traumas of the past no matter how difficult it may be.”

A monumental and necessary move said Sans Souci, who’s made it her life’s work to help heal her community.

“That in itself helps to solidify our work, my work, it’s one way that brings validation,” said Sans Souci. “It’s one way that strengthens our resolve to continue going forward. You can’t hide it anymore, you know. The truth is there and we’re going to continue to speak the truth.”

On Thursday, a new report about another Indigenous school in Canada said that investigators had found more than 600 unmarked graves at that site, where the search continues after 751 radar hits were recorded.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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