Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland addresses the attendees during “The Road to Healing” visit while Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland looks on. The two were part of a tour that stopped at the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe District 1 Community Aquatic and Fitness Center Saturday on June 3, 2023, in Onamia, Minnesota. Credit: Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

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Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland is in Minnesota this week to continue the department’s work with Indigenous communities.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe hosted an event on Saturday, the seventh stop on a year-long “Road to Healing” tour led by Haaland. Alongside Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland, Haaland heard from survivors of Indian boarding schools, and from descendants of survivors.

“This is one step among many that we will take to strengthen the bonds within Native communities that federal boarding schools set out to break,” Haaland said.

The trip is part of the Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative — an effort to uncover stories from federally run boarding schools for Indigenous children. These schools operated between 1819 through the 1970s, forcibly taking children from their families to assimilate them.

For Haaland, the project is personal, too — her grandparents were taken to federal boarding schools.

“Federal Indian Boarding School Policies touched every Indigenous person I know,” Haaland said. “We all carry this painful legacy in our hearts. Deeply ingrained in so many of us is the trauma that these policies and these places have inflicted.”

Mille Lacs Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin welcomed Haaland.

“As native people we have long memories that span generations,” Benjamin said. “The United States has much to be held accountable for that many would rather forget.”

Trauma informed counselors and break rooms were made available to all who attended the day’s events.

Next, Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland will head to Minneapolis for a hearing with the Not Invisible Act Commission. The commission is developing policy recommendations for combating the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people.