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New oral history project will teach about atrocities of America's Indian boarding schools

The U.S. government is embarking on an effort to make the dark legacies of its Native American boarding schools more available to the public through oral histories and digital records of that past. 

The National Endowment for the Humanities is contributing $4 million to the effort and announced the partnership with the Department of the Interior earlier this week. Indigenous children at more than 400 schools were forcibly assimilated and abused. They had to take white names, their hair was cut off and they were forbidden to speak their own Native languages. 

The endowment’s Shelley Lowe is Navajo. She said this project will help ensure that America’s cultural heritage is available to learn from.

"And when we want to think about where we are going into the future," she said.

Those memories, she said, are painful but unavoidable.

"It can be very painful in many instances. But it’s part of our country’s history and it’s better to understand the conditions that continue to shape how Native American communities are today," Lowe said.

The legacy of these schools continues to unfold. Victims have spoken out during a Road to Healing tour organized by the Department of the Interior. And a new investigative report into atrocities committed at these schools is expected by year’s end. 

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.