Evers signs executive order on Indigenous Peoples Day, apologizes for Wisconsin’s role in Indian boarding schools

By: - October 11, 2021 12:00 pm
Gov. Tony Evers speaks to students at Winnequah School in Monona

Gov. Tony Evers speaks to students at Winnequah School in Monona | Department of Military Affairs photo by Sgt. Alex Baum

On Monday, Indigenous People’s Day, Gov. Tony Evers signed an executive order formally apologizing for Wisconsin’s historic role in removing Native American children  from their homes and placing them in boarding schools funded by the federal government and operated by government and religious organizations. The order also includes a formal declaration of support for the U.S. Department of Interior investigation of Native American boarding schools announced earlier this year and requested that investigations in Wisconsin be undertaken in consultation with Wisconsin’s Native Nations.

For more than a century, the governor noted in a statement, “Residential schools sought to force assimilation of Native American children by isolating them from their cultural identities, punishing them for speaking their native language or practicing their traditions, prohibiting them from wearing traditional clothing, and requiring children to cut their hair.” 

Thousands of Native American children attended at least 10 day schools and boarding schools operated in Wisconsin, according to the governor’s office, while hundreds of children from Wisconsin were sent to attend out-of-state boarding schools in places like Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Virginia. 

“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today,” Evers said in his statement. “We also have a moral obligation to pursue the truth and to bring these injustices to light in Wisconsin and across our country because that understanding and acknowledgment is essential for accountability and healing.” 

Earlier this year the remains of more than 1,300 students were discovered in Canada at residential school sites. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to comprehensively review historical records and legacy of U.S. boarding school policies.

 “We recognize the trauma inflicted on Native families and communities and the loss of language, culture, and identity and the intergenerational effects these facilities had and still have,” Evers added, “while honoring the resilience and contributions of Indigenous people to our state and our country.”

This is the third year in a row that Wisconsin has officially recognized Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day. In 2019 Evers signed the first executive order setting aside the second Monday in October to recognize Indigenous People’s Day. 

Wisconsin is home to eleven federally-recognized native nations and one federally unrecognized nation, including Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Forest County Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Sokaogon Chippewa Community Mole Lake Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, St Croix Chippewa Tribe of Wisconsin, Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Tribe, and Brothertown Indian Nation.


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Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is the author of "Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers" which won the 2022 Studs and Ida Terkel award from The New Press. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.