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SAT: US report details church-state collusion on Native schools, + More

Native Americans Boarding Schools
Susan Montoya Bryan/AP
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AP
FILE - In this July 8, 2021, photo, adjunct history professor and research associate Larry Larrichio holds a copy of a late 19th century photograph of pupils at an Indigenous boarding school in Santa Fe during an interview in Albuquerque, N.M. A new federal report on the legacy of boarding schools for Native Americans underscores how closely the U.S. government collaborated with churches to Christianize the Indigenous population as part of a project to sever them from their culture, their identities and ultimately their land. The Department of the Interior report, released Wednesday, May 11, 2022, says the federal government provided funding and other support to religious boarding schools for Native children in the 19th and early 20th centuries to an extent that normally would have been prohibited by bans on the use of federal funds for religious schools. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

US report details church-state collusion on Native schools - By Peter Smith, Associated Press

A new Interior Department report on the legacy of boarding schools for Native Americans underscores how closely the U.S. government collaborated with churches to Christianize them as part of a project to sever them from their culture, their identities and ultimately their land.

The role of churches forms a secondary part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report, released Wednesday after a yearlong review sparked by the 2021 discoveries of hundreds of potential graves at former residential schools in Canada. Most of it focuses on the government's responsibility for its own officials' actions and policies.

But it details how the government provided funding and other support to religious boarding schools for Native children in the 19th and early 20th centuries to an extent that normally would have been prohibited under rules on separation between church and state. Churches had clout with the government as well, it adds, and were able to recommend people for appointments to federal positions on Native affairs.

While this church-state collaboration is well known to specialists in the field and was the subject of federal reports in past generations, the latest one brings it to a wide audience at a time when many Americans are only beginning to learn about the boarding schools.

The Interior Department report, quoting a 1969 Senate investigation, acknowledges that "federal policy toward the Indian was based on the desire to dispossess him of his land. Education policy was a function of our land policy."

A core part of that was training Native Americans in vocations that were less land-intensive — though often ill-suited to available jobs — in addition to breaking down tribal ties.

Christian conversion was also key, the report says, citing an 1886 Commissioner for Indian Affairs document that disparaged Native spiritual traditions and said the government should provide "encouragement and cooperation" to missionaries.

"The government aid furnished enables them to sustain their missions, and renders it possible ... to lead these people, whose paganism has been the chief obstacle to their civilization into the light of Christianity," the commissioner wrote at the time.

This week's report also says the government funded the schools with money held in trust for tribes as compensation for land they ceded. A 1908 Supreme Court ruling held that "the prohibition on the Federal Government to spend funds on religious schools did not apply to Indian treaty funds," it notes.

And it says, citing the 1969 Senate investigation, that the U.S. military "was frequently called in to reinforce the missionaries' orders" in the 19th century.

The report identifies 408 boarding schools for Indigenous children in 37 states and former territories that were either run or supported by the government between 1819 and 1969. While it doesn't say how many were church-run, an earlier report by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition found that more than 150 were, about half each by Catholic and Protestant groups.

At a congressional hearing Thursday on a bill that would authorize a truth-and-healing commission to investigate the boarding schools, modeled on a similar one in Canada, witness Matthew War Bonnet testified about his childhood experience at the St. Francis Boarding School in South Dakota. Priests who ran the facility sought to alienate him from his parents and culture, and at times subjected him to sadistic abuse.

"The boarding schools were sanctioned by the United States Government," said War Bonnet, 76, a Sicangu Lakota from the Rosebud Sioux Reservation. "The government gave the churches our lands to Christianize us, modernize us and civilize us. But the churches treated us wrong. ... The government and the churches need to be held accountable."

The Rev. Bradley Hauff, the Episcopal Church's missioner for Indigenous ministries, who is Lakota and a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said faith groups must confront their history of collaboration on the schools.

"As much as we in the church might not want to acknowledge that, it is the truth, and we have to acknowledge and reckon with it. We did work hand in hand with the government in the assimilation process," he said. "Most if not all the Christian denominations that had a presence in America in the late 19th century operated at least one Indigenous boarding school."

At its General Convention in July, the Episcopal Church plans to vote on probing its role with the schools and acknowledging its responsibility for causing trauma in generations of Native Americans.

Maka Black Elk, executive director of truth and healing at the Red Cloud Indian School, founded in 1888 by Jesuits in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agreed that faith groups must reckon with their past. Lakota staffing, language and ritual are central to the modern Red Cloud school, which serves Christians as well as followers of Native spiritual traditions.

"While today we recognize there are many Native people who identify as Christian ... and value that part of their identity, we have to engage deeply with that history," he said.

Any evangelism must be "rooted in people's agency and (be) nonviolent," added Black Elk, who is Oglala Lakota. "That is a big part of our discussion today. That's a broader question for the greater Catholic church, not just us."

In April, Pope Francis apologized at the Vatican to Indigenous delegations from Canada "for the deplorable conduct of those members of the Catholic Church" in operating the schools, where many children were abused and died from disease and other causes. Francis plans to apologize again on Canadian soil in July.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a lobby affiliated with the Quaker movement, which operated multiple boarding schools, said in a statement that this week's Interior report should spur congressional approval of the truth and healing commission.

"Further, we call on the faith community at large to share records and accounts of their administration of these schools," the committee said. "Only through complete honesty and transparency can we begin moving towards a more just future."

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP's collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Menaced by flames, nuclear lab peers into future of wildfireBy Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Public schools were closed and evacuation bags packed this week as a stubborn wildfire crept within a few miles of the city of Los Alamos and its companion U.S. national security lab — where assessing apocalyptic threats is a specialty and wildland fire is a beguiling equation.

Lighter winds on Friday allowed for the most intense aerial attack this week on those flames west of Santa Fe as well as the biggest U.S. wildfire burning farther east, south of Taos.

"We had all kinds of aviation flying today," fire operations chief Todd Abel said at a Santa Fe National Forest briefing Friday evening. "We haven't had that opportunity in a long time."

In Southern California, where a fire has destroyed at least 20 homes south of Los Angeles in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel, Orange County emergency officials scaled back the mandatory evacuation area Friday from 900 residences to 131.

People who remained on alert to prepare for evacuations west of Santa Fe included scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory who are tapping supercomputers to peer into the future of wildfires in the U.S. West, where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fire.

The research and partnerships eventually could yield reliable predictions that shape the way vast tracks of national forests are thinned — or selectively burned — to ward off disastrously hot conflagrations that can quickly overrun cities, sterilize soil and forever alter ecosystems.

"This actually is something that we're really trying to leverage to look for ways to deal with fire in the future," said Rod Linn, a senior lab scientist who leads efforts to create a supercomputing tool that predicts the outcome of fires in specific terrain and conditions.

The high stakes in the research are on prominent display during the furious start of spring wildfire season, which includes a blaze that has inched steadily toward Los Alamos National Laboratory, triggering preparations for a potential evacuation.

The lab emerged out of the World War II efforts to design nuclear weapons in Los Alamos under the Manhattan Project. It now conducts a range of national security work and research in diverse fields of renewable energy, nuclear fusion, space exploration, supercomputing and efforts to limit global threats from disease to cyberattacks. The lab is one of two U.S. sites gearing up to manufacture plutonium cores for use in nuclear weapons.

With nearly 1,000 firefighters battling the blaze, laboratory officials say critical infrastructure is well safeguarded from the fire, which spans 67 square miles (175 square kilometers).

Still, scientists are ready.

"We have our bags packed, cars loaded, kids are home from school — it's kind of a crazy day," said Adam Atchley, a father of two and laboratory hydrologist who studies wildfire ecology.

Wildfires that reach the Los Alamos National Laboratory increase the risk, however slightly, of disbursing chemical waste and radionuclides such as plutonium through the air or in the ashes carried away by runoff after a fire.

Mike McNaughton, an environmental health physicist at Los Alamos, acknowledges that chemical and radiological waste was blatantly mishandled in the early years of the laboratory.

"People had a war to win, and they were not careful," McNaughton said. "Emissions now are very, very small compared with the historical emissions."

Dave Fuehne, the laboratory's team leader for air emissions measurement, says a network of about 25 air monitors encircle the facility to ensure no dangerous pollution escapes the lab unnoticed. Additional high-volume monitors were deployed as fire broke out in April.

Trees and underbrush on the campus are removed manually — 3,500 tons (3,175 metric tons) over the course of the last four years, said Jim Jones, manager of the lab's Wildland Fire Mitigation Project.

"We don't do any burning," Jones said. "It's not worth the risk."

Jay Coghlan, director of the environmental group Nuclear Watch New Mexico, wants a more thorough evaluation of the lab's current fire risks and questions whether plutonium pit production is appropriate.

This year's spring blazes also have destroyed mansions on a California hilltop and chewed through more than 422 square miles (1,100 square kilometers) of tinder-dry northeastern New Mexico. In Colorado, authorities said Friday one person died in a fire that destroyed eight mobile homes in Colorado Springs.

The sprawling fire in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo Mountain range is the largest burning in the U.S., with at least 262 homes destroyed and thousands of residents displaced.

Nearly 2,000 fire personnel are now assigned to that fire with a 501-mile (806-kilometer) perimeter — a distance that would stretch from San Diego to San Francisco.

Atchley says extreme weather conditions are changing the trajectory of many fires.

"A wildfire in the '70s, '80s, '90s and even the 2000s is probably going to behave differently than a wildfire in 2020," he said.

Atchley says he's contributing to research aimed at better understanding and preventing the most destructive wildfires, superheated blazes that leap through the upper crowns of mature pine trees. He says climate change is an unmistakable factor.

"It's increasing the wildfire burn window. … The wildfire season is year-round," Atchley said. "And this is happening not only in the United States, but in Australia and Indonesia and around the world."

He's not alone in suggesting that the answer may be more frequent fires of lower intensity that are set deliberately to mimic a cycle of burning and regeneration that may have take place every two to six years in New Mexico before the arrival of Europeans.

"What we're trying to do at Los Alamos is figure out how do you implement prescribed fire safely ... given that it's exceedingly hard with climate change," he said.

Examples of intentional prescribed burns that escaped control include the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire that swept through residential areas of Los Alamos and across 12 square miles of the laboratory — more than one-quarter of the campus. The fire destroying more than 230 homes and 45 structures at the lab. In 2011, a larger and faster-moving fire burned fringes of the lab.

Atchley said the West's forests can be thought of and measured as one giant reserve that stores carbon and can help hold climate change in check — if extreme fires can be limited.

Land managers say expansive U.S. national forests can't be thinned by hand and machine alone.

Linn, the physicist, says wildfire modeling software is being shared with land managers at the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the Geological Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, for preliminary testing to see if can make prescribed fires easier to predict and control.

"We don't advocate anybody using any of these models blindly," he said. "We're in that essential phase of building those relationships with land managers and helping them to begin to make it their model as well."

Proposed revision of Mexican wolf management plan draws fireBy Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

U.S. wildlife managers want to see at least 320 Mexican gray wolves roaming the Southwest within the next several years as they try to recover an endangered species that for decades has been the focus of political strife and litigation.

While a population cap would be eliminated under a proposed management rule, environmentalists say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service isn't going far enough to ensure the recovery of the endangered species. They're pushing for the release of more captive wolves — specifically bonded pairs with pups.

Federal officials on Friday released their draft decision on the management plan for the wolves and a related environmental review. Among other things, the plan outlines when and how wolves can be removed from the wild or released from captivity.

The changes were prompted by a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. A federal judge had ordered that a revised plan be in place by July 1.

Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity said rising wolf numbers and a broader geographic distribution across New Mexico and Arizona should signal more security for the population in the short term. Still, he said the loss of genetic diversity will be a problem for the predators in the future.

"The government is pretending to conserve genetic diversity because of its court loss but refuses to release family packs with high survival rates," he said, noting that independent scientists also have pushed for the integration of underrepresented genes from captivity into the wild.

Robinson said failing to address genetic issues is at odds with the spirit of the Endangered Species Act and may violate the letter of the law.

New Mexico ranchers have their own concerns, noting that removing the population cap will result in more wolves on the landscape and ultimately more confrontation with livestock.

"On a daily basis ranching families contend with unpredictable weather, fluctuating markets and increasing regulations. Now, the federal government is moving the recovery plan 'goal posts' once again," said Craig Ogden, president of New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau. "Our state's ranchers are being sacrificed to achieve an ever-changing goal with no real finish line in sight."

It's unclear whether the Fish and Wildlife Service's latest effort will result in another legal challenge by either ranchers or environmentalists.

Officials with the agency did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the groups' concerns.

The rarest subspecies of the gray wolf in North America, the Mexican wolf has seen its population increase over the last six years. A survey done earlier this year showed at least 196 Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.

The management rule would place restrictions on permits issued to ranchers or state wildlife agencies that allow the killing of wolves if they prey on livestock, elk or deer. In its draft decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that by doing so, demographic and genetic threats to Mexican wolves would be significantly reduced in a decade or less.

Federal officials hope to reach their overall population objective as soon as 2028, and they expect to boost the survival rate of captive-bred wolves that are released into the wild in the coming years.

Officials also said that the revised plan for the first time puts into regulation a genetic objective, and meeting that goal along with the population objective would result in a 90% likelihood of the Mexican wolf population persisting over the next century.

US grappling with Native American boarding school history By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

Deb Haaland is pushing the U.S. government to reckon with its role in Native American boarding schools like no other Cabinet secretary could — backed by personal experience, a struggle with losing her own Native language and a broader community that has felt the devastating impacts.

The agency she oversees — the Interior Department — released a first-of-its-kind report this week that named the 408 schools the federal government supported to strip Native Americans of their cultures and identities. At least 500 children died at some of the schools, but that number is expected to reach into the thousands or tens of thousands as more research is done.

"We are uniquely positioned to assist in the effort to undercover the dark history of these institutions that have haunted our families for too long," she said Wednesday during a news conference. "As a pueblo woman, it is my responsibility and, frankly, it's my legacy."

The U.S. government hasn't been open to investigating itself to uncover the truth about boarding schools that operated from the late 18th century to the late 1960s. It's possible now because people who know first-hand the persistent trauma caused by the boarding school system are positioned in the U.S. government.

Still, the work to uncover the truth and create a path for healing will rely on having financial resources in Indian Country, which the federal government has chronically underfunded.

Tribes will have to navigate federal laws on repatriation to take Native children who died and are buried at former boarding school sites home, if desired, and might have no recourse to access burial sites on private land. The causes of death included disease, accidental injuries and abuse.

Boarding school survivors also might be hesitant to recount the painful past and trust a government whose policies were to eradicate tribes and, later, assimilate them under the veil of education. Some have welcomed the opportunity to share their stories for the first time.

Haaland, the first and only Native American Cabinet secretary, has the support of President Joe Biden to investigate further. Congress has provided the Interior Department with $7 million for its work on the next phase of the report, which will focus on burial sites, and identifying Native children and their ages. Haaland also said a year-long tour would seek to gather stories of boarding school survivors for an oral history collection.

A bill that's previously been introduced in Congress to create a truth and healing commission on boarding schools got its first hearing Thursday. It's sponsored by two Native American U.S. representatives — Democrat Sharice Davids of Kansas, who is Ho-Chunk, and Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is Chickasaw.

"Working with the Interior, knowing that there are representatives in the federal government who understand these experiences not just on a historical record but deep within their selves, their own personal stories, really makes a difference," said Deborah Parker, chief executive officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

More than two decades ago, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Kevin Gover issued an apology for the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual violence committed against children at the off-reservation schools. Then in 2009, President Barack Obama quietly signed off on an apology of sorts for "violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States." The language was buried deep in a multibillion-dollar defense spending bill.

The proposed commission would have a broader scope than the Interior's investigation to seek records with subpoena power. It would make recommendations to the federal government within five years of its passage, possible in the U.S. House but more difficult in the U.S. Senate.

Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. enacted laws and policies to establish and support Native American Boarding Schools. The goal was to civilize Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. Religious and private institutions often received federal funding and were willing partners.

Capt. Richard Henry Pratt described the essence of the federal boarding schools in a speech he gave in 1892 where he said, "Kill the Indian and save the man."

Minnesota resident Mitch Walking Elk ran away multiple times from boarding schools he attended in the late 1950s and early '60s because "my spirit knew it wasn't a good place for me," he said.

Boarding schools aren't the only thing that has led him to distrust the federal government, even as it seems willing to uncover the past. In 1864, Walking Elk's ancestors from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes were attacked in the Sand Creek Massacre. At least 200 people were killed, and victims' bodies were mutilated.

"I have reservations about what's going on right now because I don't trust them," said Walking Elk. "If Deb Haaland makes too many waves, the far right, the extremists will manufacture something to put the brakes on this."

Boarding school survivor Ramona Klein testified before Congress on Thursday, describing seeing her mother cry as her children got on a big, green bus for boarding school, being scrubbed with a stiff brush once there, and sleeping under a scratchy wool Army blanket. She put on a large rubber hand when she spoke of being touched at the school at night "like no child's body should be touched."

"Being in that boarding school was the loneliest time of my life," said Klein, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. "It has made it difficult for me to trust other people, including the people on this committee, with my emotions, my thoughts, my dreams and my physical being. And how could that not be the result?"

Republican Rep. Jay Obernolte of California said Congress would need to consider the financial investment in the proposed commission and whether those who serve would do so as a public service or be compensated.

"I'm not opposed to investing substantial taxpayer resources in this commission, but I think we need to be explicit about what those resources are," he said Thursday.

Family demands murder charge for officer in fatal shootingAssociated Press

A Las Cruces family is demanding that the police officer who fatally shot a 75-year-old family member be charged with murder and plans to sue the city, the family's lawyer said Thursday.

Police body camera video showed the officer shot Amelia Baca as she stepped forward after not responding to multiple commands made in English to drop two kitchen knives when the officer responded to a 911 call from a family member about threatening behavior by Baca.

The family says Amelia Baca spoke only Spanish, and the video shows family members telling the officer entering the home April 16 that Baca was mentally ill and experienced a form of dementia, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

"Let me be blunt. Amelia Baca was executed by the Las Cruces Police Department," family attorney Sam Bregman said during a Thursday news conference.

City Manager Ifo Pili said in a statement released after the news conference that a law enforcement task force's investigation of the incident was ongoing.

The officer , whose identity has not been released, remains on administrative leave, Pili said.