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Legislation that would call for Congress to investigate the federal government’s Indian boarding school policies, which led to the attempted termination and assimilation of Native Americans from 1819 through the 1960s, passed the Senate’s Indian Affairs committee with unanimous bipartisan support today.

The bill, called the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on May 18, with bipartisan support from 26 mostly Democratic senators. Warren spoke today at the Senate Committee business meeting to consider the legislation, saying it was “past time that the voices of survivors and other community members are fully heard.”

If passed, the legislation would lead to creation of a commission, appointed by the president, that would make recommendations “on actions that the Federal Government can take to adequately hold itself accountable for, and redress and heal, the historical and intergenerational trauma inflicted by the Indian Boarding School Policies,” the  bill says.

Recommendations would include: protecting unmarked graves, supporting repatriation, and stopping modern-day Indian child removal policies.

“This bill would provide the commission with several years to investigate the policies and learn from survivors and their descendants by providing this forum, (and) holding culturally respectful and meaningful hearings,” Warren told the committee. “Throughout this process, the commission would also develop recommendations for the federal government to acknowledge and heal trauma caused by this (federal boarding school) policy.”

Senators stressed the importance of the bill for Indigenous communities to work towards healing. 

“S. 1723 will help our Native and indigenous communities by creating a Commission to help guide the healing journey, and will do so through acknowledging the lasting impacts of forced assimilation through the Indian Boarding schools and developing recommendations to the federal government that will focus on native voices being heard,” Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said at today’s hearing. “To get to this result, we know that we have to not hide from the past. Generations of Tribal communities need to achieve justice and heal, and the truth must be acknowledged.”

Deborah Parker (Tulalips Tribes), CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition’s (NABS), an organization that has advocated for the bill since its original introduction, commended the senators for their work towards passing the bill.

“We are grateful to Senator Warren for reintroducing this bill and to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for working with us to make it even stronger,” Parker said in a statement. “The leadership from Senator Schatz and Senator Murkowski has been crucial in making this historic bill bipartisan.”

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About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.