Haaland, Warren Seek Healing for Stolen Native Children and Their Communities

September 29, 2020
Press Release

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Washington, D.C. -- Today, U.S. Representative Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act will establish the first formal commission in United States history to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government’s cultural genocide and assimilation practices through its Indian Boarding School Policy. The commission will also develop recommendations for Congress to aid in healing of the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native American families and communities and provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.

The Indian Boarding School Policy was 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 undocumented psychological trauma. Additionally, 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. 

“Native people are resilient and strong, but the painful and traumatic history of genocide and forced assimilation by the federal government lives on in our communities and our people have never been able to fully heal. I know not many people are aware of the history of Indian boarding schools, and I know it’s not taught in schools -- but our country must do better to acknowledge our real history and push for truth and reconciliation. The commission that U.S. Senator Warren and my colleagues want to create will be the first step to the healing that Native communities desperately need,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland.

"The Indian Boarding School Policy is a stain in America's history, and it's long overdue that justice is sought for victims of this policy who suffered unimaginable harm and thousands of Native families who remain impacted by this policy. This is why I'm joining Congresswoman Deb Haaland in introducing legislation to formally investigate the past wrongs of the Federal government's practices of cultural genocide and assimilation and to respond to ongoing historical and intergenerational trauma devastating tribal communities today,” said Senator Warren.

In 2019, Haaland and Warren released a proposal for a forthcoming bill, the Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act. The legislation will address chronic underfunding and barriers to sovereignty in Indian Country and hold the federal government accountable for honoring America's legal promises to Native peoples.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s grandparents were taken away from their homes as children and forced into Indian Boarding schools as children and did not have contact with their communities for years. Since being sworn into office, Haaland has worked to shed light on the history of the Indian Boarding School Policy. Last year, Haaland addressed the Opening Ceremony of the Jim Thorpe Sports Days and raised awareness of the historical trauma caused by forced practices assimilation at boarding schools. As Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Haaland held a hearing investigating the health and safety risks of Native children at Bureau of Indian Education Boarding Schools.

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act is supported by a broad coalition of Tribes, Tribal organizations, educators, and human rights groups.

“The Boarding School Era remains one of the darkest chapters in our collective history as Pueblo Nations. Our communities continue to experience the legacy impacts of historical and intergenerational trauma resulting from the forced removal, assimilation, and attempted cultural genocide of our communities and nations. We thank Representative Haaland and Senator Warren for their leadership in holding accountable the United States to address these injustices by developing meaningful healing paradigms and systems in consultation with Tribes across sectors.” - Chairman J. Michael Chavarria, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG)

“When we fail to teach our citizens the truth about the boarding school era we are complicit in the genocide and on-going historical trauma perpetrated against Native American peoples.” - Brian Collier, Ph.D., Director of the American Indian Catholic Schools Network, Associate Professor of the Practice at the University of Notre Dame

“The American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which comprises the nation’s 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities, believes 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. We commend Congresswoman Debra Haaland (D-NM) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for their leadership in proposing a historic commission to study, document, and identify strategies for addressing the continuing traumatic impacts of the federal government’s Indian boarding school policy. This landmark legislation will provide much-needed support for our transformative journey of healing, knowledge creation, and identity.” - Carrie L. Billy, President & CEO, American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC)

“The Association on American Indian Affairs strongly supports truth and reconciliation for the survivors of U.S. boarding schools, which includes the generations of relatives of those survivors. Recognition that the U.S. boarding school policy was genocide targeted to forcibly remove our children in order to diminish our strength and take our lands and resources. The horrendous statistics in Indian Country today are the direct result of this genocide.” - Shannon O'Loughlin, Executive Director & Attorney, Association on American Indian Affairs

“The opportunity is upon us to reconcile the history of our government and its interactions with the Indigenous Peoples of the United States. We recognize the impacts of historical trauma when advocating for healthier communities and believe this bill is a necessary first step in achieving this goal. The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women supports the establishment of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the hopes that it begins to mend the wounds of history.” - Angel Charley, Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW)

“The historical trauma that stems from ‘Indian Education’ needs to be healed, and I offer my full and unyielding support of this commission’s deeply sacred task to heal that trauma. Education has long been at the center of my public service to the Diné people, and I stand with Representative Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren to bolster this most serious action. The level of dialogue that must happen will require all the protectors of the people to bring their best words in order to make sure this initiative creates a new future of well-being for the coming generations.” - Daniel E. Tso, Navajo Nation Council Delegate

“It is long past time the US government acknowledge, come to terms with, and correct the effects of the cultural genocide imposed by the creation and implementation of boarding schools.  A symbol of institutional and widespread racist policies, the creation of boarding schools has had a profound impact not only on those that suffered firsthand, but also subsequent generations who have struggled to overcome the generational trauma inflicted by the cruel hands of the government agents charged with administering this appalling program.  I applaud the efforts of Congresswomen Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren for their work on this legislation and am proud to support this bill. “ - Richard Sneed, Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

"It is long past time the US holds itself accountable for the continued genocide and intergenerational harms against Native peoples.  Boarding Schools are one of many examples. This country must face the truth and commit to the long term process of healing.  We look forward to the co-leadership of this effort by Native peoples and thank the bill sponsors for this critical beginning." - La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, President/CEO, First Alaskans Institute

“Indian Tribes have consistently held firm that our children are our most important natural resource. The need to review the Indian Boarding School policy and practices is crucial in determining its impacts on our people and ensuring that the system is corrected to provide the best and least traumatic educational system for those children and parents who voluntarily utilize the boarding school system.” - Andy Werk Jr, President, Fort Belknap Indian Community

"The historical trauma resonating from this painful time in our collective history is not fully known by those outside of the American Indian community. The Inter Tribal Association of Arizona (ITAA) wholeheartedly supports Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren in their efforts to bring healing to every American Indian family that still has the painful effects the Federal government's Indian boarding school policies. The 'Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States,' will create the pathway forward for national dialogue to take place and hopefully for the eventual healing of individuals and families that experienced trauma as result of the federal boarding school system. It is time to review the administrative history of this federal policy as well as the institutions that implemented this federal policy." - Inter Tribal Association of Arizona (ITAA)

“The Indian Boarding School policies of the United States government are the primary source of the intergenerational trauma that haunts Our People to this day. As a Native American Vocational Rehabilitation Program Director, I deal with this daily – not only from my own immediate family, but also participants of my program from my tribe and other Native Tribes from all over the United States that relocated to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area and throughout Clark County, NV. Our People are so very grateful to the Honorable Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Senator Elizabeth Warren for establishing this Commission as a first step in a healing process that will bring us all together to acknowledge and overcome these inhumanities and hopefully lead to righteous policies that will advance our goal of Tribal Sovereignty. It’s about time we break this cycle!” - Ashly M. Osborne, Moapa Band of Paiutes Tribal Secretary, Moapa Band of Paiutes

“The United States attempted deliberate eradication of Native American culture and forced assimilation through their boarding school policies. The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy will explore, document, and acknowledge the past wrongs of the Federal government in order to aid the healing of intergenerational trauma passed down in Native American families and communities. We thank Rep. Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren for their bi-cameral leadership on this critical issue.” - Kevin J. Allis, Chief Executive Officer of the National Congress of American Indians.

“The National Indian Child Welfare Association is an enthusiastic supporter of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act and greatly appreciates Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren for their leadership in introducing this important legislation. The legacy of the boarding school era continues to directly impact tribal families and communities today. The rate of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) within tribal populations is disproportionately high and so are the rates of Native children in state foster care systems. This legislation provides a framework for better understanding the adverse impacts of boarding schools and related policies and a platform to create meaningful solutions that will effectively address historic and intergenerational trauma.” - Sarah Kastelic, Executive Director, National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)

“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.” - Diana Cournoyer, Executive Director, National Indian Education Association (NIEA)

“Native women face some the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the United States, and on some reservations, the murder rate of Native women is more than 10 times the national average. This spectrum of violence perpetrated against Native women has deep roots in colonization. The federal government’s cultural genocide and assimilation practices, such as the Indian boarding school policy, normalized and increased societal tolerance of violence against Native women. The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States is an important step forward to understand and reconcile federal laws and programs, and current systemic vulnerabilities of Native women to violence.” - Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, National Indigenous Women's Resource Center (NIWRC)

“A Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools is long overdue in the U.S. The consequences of continuing to ignore the ongoing impacts of this genocidal federal policy are being played out at this very moment in our country. There can be no change for the future without acknowledgement of the past and there can be no racial equity for all if the conversation doesn’t start with the first nations of these lands. The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition fully supports this important bill to understand and address this dark part of American history.” - Christine Diindiisi McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition & Citizen of Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation

“The impact of the boarding schools on Native Nations in the U.S. has never been fully understood or investigated by the U.S. government.  However, we can point to numerous impacts on the language, culture and wellbeing of Native people due to this history.  We fully support a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and process to begin to address and remedy the ramifications from these policies.” - Tiffany S. Lee, Native American Studies, University of New Mexico

“The creation of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States would represent a long-awaited admission of injustice.  We know intimately the impact of this trauma as a former boarding school ourselves and have begun our own healing journey in collaboration with the Catholic church.  But we call upon the federal government to work in solidarity with its indigenous communities by committing themselves to this work.” - Maka Black Elk, Executive Director for Truth and Healing, Red Cloud Indian School

“In our Catholic tradition, before any historical, emotional or individual trauma can be forgiven or healed, there must accountability for the sin.” - Antonio Trujillo, Principal, St. Joseph Mission School

"The establishment of this Commission is long overdue. The historical trauma caused by the United States forced boarding school policies have been passed down to subsequent generations and lives in our communities today." - Teri Gobin, Tulalip Tribes Chair

“The impact of boarding schools sought to eradicate and devastate our connections to our communities by assimilation and acculturation tactics. We continue to address the trauma and devastation of the physical, behavioral, and economic health of those impacted and their descendants.” - Joseph Quintana, Development Director, United American Indian Involvement, Inc

“USET SPF continues to insist that the United States atone for centuries of sins against Tribal Nations and Native people. Our hearts remain heavy with the weight of lasting intergenerational trauma caused by the horrors our ancestors faced at U.S.-run boarding schools. Hundreds of thousands of Native children were forcibly removed from their people and lost their culture, language, innocence—even their lives—at the hands of the federal government. And yet the United States refuses to examine or even acknowledge these human rights violations. The time is long overdue for the federal government and the American people to engage in honest reconciliation with the atrocities of the past, so that we can all move forward as citizens of a more just and honorable nation. Rep. Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Warren’s bill would not only provide an opportunity for this reckoning, it would also provide for the examination of modern-day assimilationist policies resulting in the continued theft of Native children from their Tribal communities. We offer our full support to this legislation.” - Chief Kirk Francis, President, United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund (USET SPF)

“A truth and healing commission that documents the horrors perpetrated against more than two hundred thousand Native Americans who were forced to attend government-run boarding schools is  a critical step toward acknowledging the intergenerational trauma perpetrated on hundreds of thousands of Native children, families and their Nations. These stories, once recorded, will be an important source of information for Native and non-Native children alike to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent future atrocities - the need could not be more pressing.” - Upstander Project

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States Act is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives  Jared Huffman (CA-02), Denny Heck (WA-10), Kendra S. Horn (OK-05), Markwayne Mullin (OK-02), Susan A. Davis (CA-53), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Sharice L. Davids (KS-03), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Tom Cole (OK-04), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), and Ben Ray Luján (NM-03).

“The trauma caused by the U.S. Indian Boarding School Policy lives on, and it has never been fully addressed. This legislation charts a path forward to recognition and redress for the cultural and familial destruction that occurred during this dark chapter in American history. I’m proud to join Rep. Haaland and a broad coalition of Tribal leaders and organizations in this necessary and historic effort,” said Assistant Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ben Ray Luján.

Congressman Cole, co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said, “One of the darkest periods in our past was the assimilation pressed upon Native Americans and Alaska Natives for nearly a century. Studying and understanding the societal, cultural and personal impact of forcibly removing Native American children from their homes, families, communities and heritage is certainly worth investigating. While we cannot erase this difficult chapter in our history, I believe the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy provides an important step toward reconciliation and healing. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this important piece of legislation.”\

“I am proud to cosponsor the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy in the United States,” said Congresswoman Horn. “Assimilation boarding schools are a dark period in our history. Across the US, 83 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children as young as five were forcibly enrolled in boarding schools, stripping them of their name, language, culture and spiritual beliefs.  It is necessary we take a serious and honest accounting of the impact of boarding schools, including psychological trauma and premature deaths.”

“The federal government’s Indian Boarding School Policy sought to eliminate Native culture and contributed to a cycle of abuse. It’s critical to break the cycle of intergenerational violence and substance abuse and this is a step in the right direction. The Commission will develop recommendations to help safeguard indigenous languages and cultures as well as create a space for survivors to share their experiences. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill that will help the healing process for those who suffered under this cruel policy,” said Congressman Mullin.

“It’s long past time that we acknowledge the physical, psychological, and cultural atrocities that were committed against Native children under the Indian Boarding School Policy,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “I am grateful for Rep. Haaland’s leadership. This important legislation will establish a Truth and Healing Commission that can document the tremendous harm of forced assimilation practices and the removal of Native children from their families and Tribal communities, and make recommendations to Congress so we can begin to make amends.”