Warren Leads 26 Senators to Reintroduce Bill Seeking Healing for Stolen Native Children and their Communities
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) led 26 senators to reintroduce the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. Originally introduced in 2020 with then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and reintroduced in 2021 with the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Congressman Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the bill would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's Indian Boarding School Policies. This includes attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; assimilation practices; and human rights violations. The commission would also develop recommendations for Congress to aid in healing of the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities and provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.
"The Indian Boarding School Policies are a stain on America's history, and it's long overdue that the federal government reckon with its legacy of causing unimaginable suffering and trauma for survivors, victims, and the thousands of Native families who remain impacted. This is why I’m reintroducing legislation to establish a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies that would investigate the federal government's shameful actions to terminate the cultures, religions, and languages of Native communities and respond to the intergenerational trauma impacting tribal communities today,” said Senator Warren.
The Indian Boarding School Policies were implemented by the federal government to strip American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children of their Indigenous identities, beliefs, and languages. Nearly 83 percent of AI/AN children, as young as 5 years old, were forcibly removed from their Tribal lands and families to be enrolled in one of 367 Indian boarding schools across 30 states, resulting in human rights violations including spiritual, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse and violence. The full effects of the Indian Boarding School Policy have never been appropriately addressed, resulting in long-standing historical and intergenerational trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, premature deaths, and additional undocumented psychological trauma. Furthermore, the residual impact of the Indian Boarding School Policy remains evident in a lack of culturally inclusive and affirming curricula and historically inaccurate representation of AI/AN people, history, and contributions.
The bill is endorsed by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS), National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), National Indian Education Association (NIEA), National Indian Health Board (NIHB), National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH), National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FNCL), and United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF).
“Thank you to Sen. Elizabeth Warren for reintroducing this historic bill, which will allow the United States and Indian Country to work together in support of Indian boarding school survivors,” said Deborah Parker (Tulalip), CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS). “While the United States can’t undo the harm caused by Indian boarding schools, Congress has the opportunity to pass a bill that will begin to seek truth, justice, and healing.”
“The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) supports the reintroduction of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the U.S. Act, and supports its goals,” said National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) Treasurer Shannon Holsey. “This Act would provide an important avenue for an investigation about the losses that occurred through the Indian Boarding School Policies and the lasting consequences of the violence of this attempted genocide. NCAI commends all efforts to address the systematic destruction of tribal cultures and communities and urges Congress to pass this critically important piece of legislation.”
"Native communities have suffered loss of traditional thought and philosophy, culture, language, identity, land, and resources since 1491. The purpose of the act is respected, however over 500 years of broken promises and failures to uphold the trust responsibility will require more than just written policies. For this act to make effective and lasting change, Native communities and the US government MUST communicate, collaborate, and trust to determine the most appropriate ways for healing to begin for Native people. We are encouraged by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland's announcement on June 22, 2021 of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, and this codification in law of such an initiative will ensure that this investigation and documentation continues under future administrations.” – National Indian Education Association.
“The Indian Boarding School Policies caused unimaginable suffering and trauma for the survivors and victims, and the generations of Native families who remain impacted by these policies. The resulting trauma has led to countless health disparities that Native communities face daily. The creation of this commission is a necessary and important step in healing Native families and communities suffering from intergenerational trauma. The National Indian Health Board is proud to support the Truth and Healing Commission.” – National Indian Health Board
“The National Indian Child Welfare Association greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Warren and Representatives Davids and Cole to introduce the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. As we witness the international shock and outrage at the identification of mass burial sites and unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Canada who were residents of residential schools, we see the parallels to the boarding school era in the United States and the accounts from survivors of the horrific abuse they experienced. The legacy of those policies and practices is evident in Native communities today. This legislation is critical to exposing the truth about the individual and collective trauma that was imposed upon Native communities and furthering the process of healing for all Native people.” – National Indian Child Welfare Association.
"The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which comprises the nation's 35 Tribal Colleges and Universities, commends Senator Elizabeth Warren for her leadership in proposing a long overdue commission to study, document, and identify strategies for addressing the continuing traumatic impacts of the federal government's Indian boarding school policy. As TCUs, we believe strongly in the power of place-based and Tribal Nation-focused education rising from within us - from our own culture and language and connected to the air, land, water around us. That is the foundation of our future. But we cannot move forward unless we acknowledge and address all aspects of our past, including centuries of oppression, segregation, and even annihilation - the legacy of the boarding school experience. This landmark legislation will provide much-needed support for our transformative journey of healing, knowledge creation, and identity,” said Carrie L. Billy, AIHEC President and CEO of American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
“During an era of damaging federal law and assimilation policies, Indian Boarding Schools served as another direct attack on Indigenous women and Tribal sovereignty, with the forced removal and trafficking of Native children meant to erode Native families deliberately. Boarding School policies left an indelible scar on the spirit of Indigenous families and Tribal Nations. The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center supports the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act in seeking to hold the Federal Government accountable for the historical and intergenerational trauma inflicted by the Indian Boarding School Policies,” said Lucy R. Simpson, Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center.
"I am thankful to Representative Davids, Cole, and Senator Warren for their invaluable support in amplifying the voices of boarding school survivors who courageously speak truth to the deep-rooted injustices and intergenerational harm inflicted by the United States," remarked Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Executive Vice President of the Seattle Indian Health Board and Director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. "These are the people that must lead this vital effort. The establishment of the 'Truth and Healing Commission' represents a significant stride forward, and it is imperative that we see more initiatives like this for our communities to head.” – Seattle Indian Health Board.
"Having run several boarding schools for American Indian and Alaska Native students ourselves, the Jesuits would welcome the opportunity to work with a federal Commission to shine the light of truth on this part of our own, and our country’s, history. We participated fully with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has proven an important step on the road towards right relationship with Indigenous peoples. A similar Commission is likewise essential in this country. We are greatly encouraged by the introduction of this bill and ask all members of Congress to support it.,” said Fr. Ted Penton, SJ, Secretary of Justice and Ecology of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States.
“FCNL applauds the reintroduction of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools Policies in the U.S. Act as a next step to investigating the atrocities of Indian boarding schools and opening a path toward justice. In solidarity with Indigenous leaders and communities, we call on Congress to establish a federal commission with suitable investigative authority to advance an accountability and healing process that can address the deep intergenerational trauma and legacies of violence perpetrated by the Indian boarding school era.
As a Quaker organization, we also commit to and call on our own faith community to continue a truth and reckoning process with our role in facilitating this violence and cultural genocide against Native communities. Just as we must reckon with our own role in the Indian boarding school era, the U.S. government and other faith groups who bear responsibility must face the truth, demonstrate accountability, and participate actively in the long, hard journey toward healing and right relationship that protects human rights and tribal sovereignty,” said Bridget Moix, General Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
The bill is signed by Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Vice Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Marin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
“Indian boarding school policies are a dark chapter in our nation’s history. They ripped away Native kids from their families, suppressed Indigenous language and culture, and left generational trauma that continues to this day,” said Senator Schatz, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Untangling this complex history will be difficult, but in partnership with Native survivors and relatives, our bill will help us take a first step towards righting this historic wrong. I look forward to moving quickly to consider this bill in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.”
“It is past time the U.S. government come to terms with the dark legacy of the Indian boarding school era, which attempted to destroy Native American cultures, religions, and languages,” said Senator Murkowski, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.“A formal truth and healing commission will help address those past injustices and support processes that bring healing to survivors, their families, and communities. I thank my colleagues who continue to support this legislation and look forward to the healing and justice it will help provide.”
“The Indian Boarding School Policies were inhumane, unjust, and racist policies designed to terminate and forcibly assimilate Native culture and communities,” said Senator Markey. “The Truth and Healing Commission will be a critical step forward in not only recognizing the truth of our nation's horrific past but supporting the healing of countless Native people and tribal communities who have suffered this intergenerational trauma. I am proud to support this legislation and work in partnership with native people in Massachusetts, and across the nation, as we address this historic wrong.”
“For centuries, the U.S. government sought to eliminate Tribal communities and their cultures. The U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies, which forcibly removed Native children from their communities in an effort to erase Native cultures and languages, devastated communities and caused horrific generational trauma. Establishing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Policy is a step towards healing and will help provide long overdue answers to Native communities,” said Senator Smith.
“Our country must reckon with the deeply painful history of Indian boarding school policies that caused irreparable damage to Native communities. We must understand and fully acknowledge the federal government’s attempts to eradicate Native cultures, religions, and languages, often by violating the rights of Native communities,” said Senator Durbin. “I’m signing on to the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act to ensure that Indian boarding school policies are properly investigated and to aid Native American families as they heal from the trauma inflicted by our nation’s shameful history.”
“The harsh and inhumane treatment inflicted upon Native communities throughout our nation's history remains a painful scar. This legislation is a crucial step towards us acknowledging and reckoning with that dark chapter,” said Senator Booker. “The creation of the Truth and Healing Commission would finally offer a much-needed platform to investigate past injustices, give survivors a chance to share their stories, and address the enduring trauma suffered by Native families and communities that persists to this day.”
“Centuries of horrific injustices against Native American Tribes and their children are constantly overlooked in the teaching of our nation’s history. Justice requires acknowledgement of that history and healing for the descendants of that legacy of injustice—we must reckon with our past,” said Senator Merkley. “Creating a commission that will examine the human rights violations that took place at Indian boarding schools is a necessary step to begin to atone for the resulting and enduring intergenerational trauma.”
“Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes enrich our state in unique and valuable ways. This commission will hold the federal government accountable for harmful policies against native children and identify ways to ensure healthy learning environments that protect and honor native cultures,” said Senator Sinema.
“Indian boarding schools were a tragic chapter in U.S. history, and we must confront these abuses and support the many tribal communities who were targeted,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I am proud to support the creation of the Truth and Healing Commission and will continue to work with Nevada’s Stewart Indian School and Native organizations across the country to help address these past injustices and stand up for Indigenous children and families across the country.”
“The legacy of the Federal Indian Boarding School era is a stain on our nation's history. Native communities and Tribal Nations today continue to bear the scars inflicted by the federal government and it’s time for us to a take steps to make amends,” said Senator Luján. “I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation to begin the reconciliation process for the boarding school era with our Native brothers and sisters.”
“As representatives of the U.S. government, it is our shared responsibility to make right the wrongs done to Native peoples across Colorado and the country, and we have a long way to go to do so. This legislation to establish a Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies is a good first step toward addressing the horrific abuse and trauma inflicted on Native children at Indian boarding schools and the lasting effect it has had on Native communities to this day,” said Senator Bennet.
“Establishing a formal Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools is long overdue,” said Senator Heinrich. “As we continue our work to support Tribal sovereignty, Native language revitalization, and self-determination in education, the federal government also needs to fully acknowledge the trauma inflicted by U.S. Indian Boarding School policies.”
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