By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Wisconsin residents are on borrowed land. Before Wisconsin became known as Wisconsin, it was home to Native American tribes such as the Menominee, the Ojibwe, the Ho-Chunk, the Potawatomi and the Dakota, but when settlers began taking over, Native Americans were forced out.
The United States government removed them from their land and relocated them to reservations. In other instances, they were killed by foreign diseases or by the colonists themselves. For Native American children it was a different story.
Earlier this week, the United States commemorated Indigenous Peoples Day. The day has been traditionally known as Columbus Day, to mark the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas. In recent years, many have advocated for the day to be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day.
During this year’s Indigenous Peoples Day, Gov. Tony Evers signed Executive Order #136, which officially acknowledged and apologized for Wisconsin’s role in Indian boarding schools while visiting the Oneida Reservation on Monday, Oct. 11. Wisconsin first acknowledged Indigenous Peoples Day in 2019 with Executive Order #50.
During the 1860s to the 1970s, thousands of Native American children attended Indian boarding schools, according to the press release. The purpose of the schools was to assimilate the Native American children. At the schools, children were prohibited from speaking in their native languages, practicing their cultural traditions and more.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11 of these schools were operated in Wisconsin. The schools included Lac du Flambeau boarding school, Hayward Indian School, Wittenberg Indian School, Tomah Industrial School and more.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that these schools were often used to civilize the students rather than educate them and that the days were split between schoolwork and labor. Furthermore, the schools were often in poor conditions and riddled with various diseases. Many children died at the schools.
In his statement, Evers acknowledged that Wisconsin has a responsibility to acknowledge the pain it inflicted on tribal communities, an impact which can still be felt to this day.
“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 acknowledgement is essential for accountability and healing,” Evers said.
His statement continued, “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.”