Warren’s Bill Advances through Indian Affairs Committee
Warren’s Bipartisan Bill would Establish a Formal Commission to Investigate, Document, and Acknowledge Past Injustices of Indian Boarding School Policies
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced that her Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act was unanimously reported favorably out of the Indian Affairs Committee. Senator Warren delivered an opening statement at a business meeting of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs which considered her bill, highlighting the need for a truth and healing commission to reckon with the trauma and suffering caused by the federal government’s Indian Boarding School policies and thanking Chairman Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for their leadership on this issue and partnership in advancing the bill.
Senator Warren’s bill – which has been supported by Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate – would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's Indian Boarding School Policies. These included attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, languages, and identities; 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 survivors and their families to speak about personal experiences tied to these harrowing human rights violations.
This legislation would build upon the work of Secretary pf the Interior Deb Haaland, who launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative at the Department of the Interior in June 2021. Senator Warren originally introduced this bill in 2020 with then-Representative Haaland (D-N.M.)
She reintroduced the bill in 2021 with the Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, Representative Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.). This Congress, the reintroduced bill has garnered 28 cosponsors in the Senate, including both Chairman Schatz and and Vice Chairman Murkowski.
This meeting is the latest step in Senator Warren’s efforts to address the Indian Boarding School Policies. In June 2022, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on the bill following a request from Senator Warren and 18 of her colleagues that the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hold the 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.
Transcript: Business Meeting to consider S. 1723
U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Chairman Schatz. It is a privilege to be back with the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today to discuss the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act. I was so glad to join your legislative hearing on this bill last fall, and I appreciate the invitation to join you again today.
This bill has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. It has been an honor to work with Republicans and Democrats together on such an important issue.
I’d like to start by thanking Chairman Schatz and Vice Chair Murkowski for your strong leadership and your commitment to this issue, as well as the many additional cosponsors of the bill.
I’d also like to thank Deborah Parker and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Commission for their invaluable expertise and work over the past several years.
This bill would establish a truth and healing commission to formally investigate the Indian Boarding School Policies – horrifying and unacceptable practices intended to strip Native children of their Indigenous identities, beliefs, and languages.
I first introduced this legislation in 2020, with my dear friend Deb Haaland when she was serving in Congress. She told me how important this was to her on a personal level, and we agreed that it is critical from a national policy perspective as well.
Since that time, Secretary Haaland has launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative at the Department of Interior, and I have re-introduced the bill twice to carry on that work.
Thanks as well to Representative Sharice Davids and Tom Cole, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus for carrying the baton in the House.
As many of you know, the federal government’s Indian Boarding School Policies caused unimaginable suffering and trauma that linger on in tribal communities today, and it is long overdue that the federal government fully reckon with this history and its legacy.
For at least 150 years, up through 1969, these policies forcibly removed children – some as young as 3 years old – from their homes and families and sent them to boarding schools.
The Department of Interior’s initial report already identified more than 400 of these boarding schools across 37 states or then-territories.
At the schools, Native children were subjected to harrowing human rights violations, including spiritual, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse; neglect; and trauma.
Many never returned to their families, and inaccurate, scattered, or missing school records still make it difficult for families to locate their loved ones today.
As of last year, the Department of the Interior already identified more than fifty burial sites at these schools, many of them unmarked, and that number is expected to increase.
It is no question that this work will be painful, but it is important – and long overdue. The Department of Interior’s report was the first time, first time, that the federal government acknowledged its role in these policies.
It is past time that the voices of survivors and other community members are fully heard. In fact, the final conclusion of the Department of Interior’s initial report stated that the federal government has yet to provide this type of forum for survivors, descendants, and their families to voluntarily share their stories.
This bill would provide the commission with several years to investigate the policies and learn from survivors and their descendants by providing this forum, holding culturally respectful and meaningful hearings.
And throughout the process, the commission would also develop recommendations for the federal government to acknowledge and heal trauma caused by these policies.
Revelations in Canada and across the United States have already shown that this work will inevitably result in a resurgence of trauma. The revelations uncovered by this commission too will undoubtedly underscore the need for resources to begin healing.
To all those who have shared their experiences and feedback to improve and strengthen this legislation: thank you. Your voices are vital, and your work has been immeasurable.
I look forward to continuing to work with the Committee as this legislation advances to finally begin the process of healing for Native communities that have been living with the effects of the disgraceful legacy of the Indian Boarding School Policies for far too long. Thank you again to Chairman Schatz and Vice Chair Murkowski for your deep commitment to this issue.
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