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Isabella County tribe ready to review uncovered boarding school records

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A U.S. Department of Interior report released on May 12 found records of both marked and unmarked graves at boarding schools around the country.

Indigenous boarding schools operated around the U.S. to assimilate Indigenous people into white society against their will, said Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe historian Marcella Hadden.

She was surprised there were not more graves found in uncovered records.

Indigenous peoples in boarding schools were kept in school year-round and weren't reunited with their families unless they sought their family out. The tribe still wants to know what happened to missing children, Hadden said.

"It's very encouraging because it's like America's best kept secret," she said. "It's nothing they want to advertise and talk about, but it's probably one of the most devastating things that ever happened to our people and our culture."

Hadden doesn't believe this trove of documents would be accessible to the public without an Indigenous woman currently helming the Department of Interior, she said.

"It wouldn't have happened without a native in that position. I don't mean to say nobody cares, but nobody's going to fight for us but us," Hadden said.

The next steps are to sift through microfilms and start comparing federal records with Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School records to find missing children, she said.

"They don't want to make light of what happened. It's not a pretty history. But you can't heal from what you don't acknowledge," she said.

Some records already acquired show there are a lot of students that went missing in Mount Pleasant, and the tribe is still trying to find their graves.

Ben Jodway is an intern, serving as a reporter for WCMU Public Media and the Pioneer in Big Rapids. He has covered Indigenous communities and political extremism in Michigan.