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'Our children deserve to be found;' The painful legacy of Native American boarding schools

'Our children deserve to be found'; The painful legacy of Native American boarding schools
'Our children deserve to be found'; The painful legacy of Native American boarding schools 04:14

RIVERSIDE COUNTY --  It is a haunting chapter in American and California history: a school system that's created to isolate Indigenous children and take away everything they know - including their birth names. 

The first of three federal investigative reports has revealed some of the details. What's horrible is that these schools were part of official U.S. policy. The goal was to assimilate these children into White society.

But according to the report, there was a broader objective in mind – to dispossess them of tribal lands as the U.S. continued to expand.

ALSO READ: Unseen: A California crisis of missing, murdered Indigenous women 

Part 1Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Tucked between a busy street -- and a suburban hillside in Riverside County -- lies a painful reminder of the past.

In an old school cemetery in Riverside County, at least 65 Indigenous children are buried. Their remains are far away from their homes.  

"Our children deserve to be found," said Deborah Parker of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. "Our children deserve to be brought home."

A tombstone at an Indian boarding school Riverside County. CBS

"Each of those children is a missing family member," said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to serve as a cabinet secretary.

Why are these children buried here? The groundbreaking federal study reveals new details.

According to the report, between 1819 and 1969 the U.S. government operated or supported more than 400 boarding schools across 37 states and territories. The goal was to assimilate Indigenous children into White society and, on a broader scale, lay the ground to accelerate the taking of tribal lands.

A group of Spokane Indian children photographed before their internment in boarding school. Pacific University, Forest Grove

Twelve of these schools were in California

"As the federal government moved the country West they also moved to exterminate, eradicate, and assimilate Native Americans, Alaska natives, and Native Hawaiians," Haaland said.

Haaland ordered the investigative report on the federal Indian boarding schools

"At these schools, children were forced to give up everything they knew," said Haaland. "The languages, cultures, religions, traditional practices, and even the history of native communities. All of it was targeted for destruction."

Indian boarding school students Pacific University, Forest Grove

Philip Williams is a tribal leader for the Yurok tribe, the largest tribe in California, located on a reservation in Del Norte and Humboldt counties. 

As a child, he remembers asking his grandmother about speaking their traditional language at home.

"She told me it's not going to do you any good in your life," Williams said. "You're better off forgetting this and being a White man."

 Williams' grandmother made it back home. But, many Indigenous children did not. Federal investigators have so far turned up more than 500 deaths at 19 schools. They expect the number of burial sites to increase. 

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