Bennet, Warren, 25 Colleagues Introduce Bill to Establish Commission to Investigate Past Injustices of Government's Indian Boarding School Policies

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and 25 of their colleagues in introducing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, legislation to 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 address the effects of these policies on Native families and communities and provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.

“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 Bennet. 

"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 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 cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, premature deaths, and additional undocumented psychological trauma. 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), 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). 

“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," said the 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," said the National Indian Health Board.

“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.

"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.

In addition to Bennet and Warren, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. 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.), 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.).

The bill text is available HERE. A one-pager is available HERE.