August 13, 2021

Warren, Davids, and Colleagues Urge IHS to Implement Protections for Those Experiencing Indian Boarding School Era Trauma

Lawmakers’ request follows Interior’s recently announced Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative that will inevitably shed light on extremely troubling episodes in the nation’s history

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) led a letter to the Indian Health Service (IHS) requesting that the agency ensure that culturally appropriate supports are in place for survivors and communities affected by the Indian Boarding School Policies. In the letter, they commend Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s recent announcement of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, while urging IHS to develop protections for those who experience trauma resulting from revelations that emerge during the initiative. They also request that IHS collaborate with relevant agencies, including other components of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at the Department of the Interior.

The requests in this letter were suggested, and are supported, by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). The letter was joined by 19 of their colleagues in Congress. 

The Indian Boarding School Policies were created and implemented by the federal government as brutal tools to terminate Native identity in favor of assimilating American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children into non-Native culture. The policies were carried out to eradicate the cultures of Indigenous peoples in the United States by stripping children of their Native identities, beliefs, practices, knowledge, and languages. Under these policies, Native children, as young as three years old, were forcibly removed from their family homes and placed in boarding schools. The legacy of these policies continues to impact Native communities through intergenerational trauma, grief over the loss of children who never returned, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, health disparities, substance abuse, premature deaths, despair, and additional undocumented psychological trauma.

“Secretary Haaland’s announcement of Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is a long-overdue and crucial step as the federal government begins to acknowledge and address the harms created by these policies,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge IHS to consider potential protections for those experiencing trauma from the Indian Boarding School Policies and the revelations that will continue to emerge during the course of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. [...] This revisiting and exploration of the boarding school era could be traumatic for survivors, their families, and their communities.”

IHS is equipped to consider ways to prevent inflicting or worsening existing intergenerational trauma. To strengthen those efforts, the lawmakers are urging IHS to collaborate and coordinate with other relevant agencies, and with tribal nations on ways to mitigate further harm for survivors, their families, and other community members. In particular, the lawmakers encourage IHS to take steps, similar to those taken in Canada, for those who experience trauma tied to similar practices in that country. One step identified in the letter that has been recommended by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and NIHB is the creation of a culturally competent hotline.

“The Indian Boarding School era is a stain in America’s history, and it is long overdue that we begin to formally investigate the past wrongs and ongoing harms of these policies. We therefore strongly commend the Biden Administration’s courage and commitment to investigating the harms imposed on Native communities by the federal government, and we look forward to working together to address the resulting painful intergenerational reverberations in Native communities today,” the lawmakers concluded

Last Congress, Senators Warren and then-Rep. Haaland introduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act to establish the first formal commission in United States history to investigate and document these policies. This would include the federal government’s attempted termination of cultures and languages of Indigenous peoples, assimilation practices, and human rights violations that occurred through the Indian Boarding School Policies.