June 23, 2022

ICYMI: At Senate Indian Affairs Hearing, Senator Warren Calls for Passage of Her Legislation to Address the Disgraceful Legacy of Indian Boarding School Policies

In her testimony at the hearing, Secretary Haaland announces the administration’s strong support for the bill

Warren: “The full effects of these policies have never before been appropriately addressed by the federal government.” 

Video (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered remarks calling for passage of her bill, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act (S. 2907), which seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who testified at the hearing, announced the administration’s strong support for the legislation.

Senator Warren’s legislation would establish a commission to formally investigate, document, and acknowledge the Federal Indian Boarding School Policies. These policies included attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; assimilation practices; and human rights violations. 

“The full effects of these policies have never before been appropriately addressed by the federal government,” said Senator Warren. “This work will be painful, but long overdue.”

At the hearing, Senator Warren described how the Indian Boarding School Policies forcibly removed Native children from their tribal lands and families and placed them in boarding schools, where they were subjected to spiritual, physical, industrial, psychological, and sexual abuse; neglect; and trauma.

Senator Warren explained that this bill would build upon the work of Secretary Haaland, who launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative—a Department of the Interior review of the troubled legacy of the Federal Indian Boarding School Policies—in June 2021. On May 11, 2022, Interior released the first volume of its report, marking the start of the federal government’s reckoning with this painful legacy. The hearing focused on Senator Warren’s legislation as well as the first volume of Interior’s report.

Senator Warren first introduced the legislation in 2020 with then-Representative Haaland (D-N.M.). This Congress, she reintroduced the bill alongside the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), on September 30, 2021—the National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools. The reintroduced bill has garnered 23 cosponsors in the Senate, including both the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Senator Warren thanked Chairman Schatz and Vice Chairman Murkowski for their leadership on this issue and emphasized her desire to work with the Committee to advance the legislation.

The commission established by the bill would provide a forum for victims, survivors, and other community members to speak about their experiences tied to these human rights violations. This is a step that the first volume of Interior’s report highlighted as necessary. The commission would also develop recommendations for Congress to aid in the healing of the historic and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities, including the establishment of a support hotline for survivors and affected communities. 

“The administration strongly supports this legislation, especially the development of the national survivor resources to address the intergenerational trauma, and the inclusion of the commission’s formal investigation and documentation practices,” Secretary Haaland testified. She later noted “how strongly we feel that this bill is actually complementary to the work that we’re doing” at Interior.

This hearing is the latest step in Senator Warren’s efforts to address the Indian Boarding School Policies. Last month, Senator Warren, along with 18 of her colleagues, requested that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hold this hearing. In August 2021, she and Representative Davids sent a letter to the Indian Health Service urging the agency to ensure that culturally appropriate supports are in place for survivors and communities affected by the Indian Boarding School Policies. Senator Warren also cosponsored Vice Chairman Murkowski’s concurrent resolution (S.Con.Res. 28) supporting the designation of September 30, 2021, as National Day of Remembrance for the Native American children who died while attending the Indian boarding schools; the concurrent resolution was agreed to in the Senate by unanimous consent.