MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For the third year in a row, Gov. Tony Evers commemorated Native Nations’ contributions to the state’s history.
This year, however, the governor went a step further, marking the day by apologizing on behalf of the state for its participation in Indian boarding schools.
In a statement complimenting Evers’ executive order, the governor’s office explained how the program, which began in the Civil War-era and lasted for more than a century, used inducements and coercion to place thousands of Native American children in boarding schools. At the schools, the children were punished for speaking their native languages and prohibited from wearing traditional clothing, among other restrictions designed to promote cultural assimilation.
“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,” Evers said.
Evers’ office pointed out state records indicate Wisconsin was home to ten such schools, which were supported and paid for by the U.S. government. It added that hundreds of other children were sent to boarding schools in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, and other states. However, the statement also acknowledged that a lack of documentation means officials do not have all the information necessary to understand the scope of the initiative.
“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today,” the governor continued. “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.”
The governor included in the executive order a commitment to support the U.S. Dept. of Interior’s investigation into the program, including the ones that operated in Wisconsin. In addition, he asked that the federal agency coordinate that investigation with the state’s native populations.
In 2019, Evers became the first Wisconsin governor to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, signing an executive order that it be recognized on the second Monday in October. Monday’s order reaffirmed the original order.