October 01, 2021

Wyden, Merkley Cosponsor Bill to Seek Healing for Stolen Native Children and Their Communities

Washington, D.C. –U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they are co-sponsoring legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities by establishing a formal commission that would investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government's Indian Boarding School policies.

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act also would cover attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; 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 victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.

“The sordid history of cruelty inflicted for centuries on Tribes in Oregon and nationwide sadly includes a big chapter on unspeakable injustice and forced relocation of Native children,” Wyden said. “While nothing can undo that horrific history, this legislation would provide a long-overdue reckoning for a brutal legacy that includes the forcible removal of children to so-called Indian boarding schools where they suffered abuse and trauma.”

“Centuries of horrific injustices against Native American tribes and their children are constantly overlooked in the teaching of our nation’s history. Justice requires acknowledgement of that history and healing for the descendants of that legacy of injustice,” said Merkley. “We must reckon with our past, and creating a commission that will examine the human rights violations that took place at Indian boarding schools so we can begin to atone for the resulting intergenerational trauma is an important start.”

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other cosponsors in the Senate of the bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren are U.S. Sens Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“We are in a moment in history where the wound of unresolved grief from Indian boarding schools is being ripped wide open. The truth is being unearthed and yet so much more is still unknown. It is time for a federal Truth Commission to provide answers to the thousands of relatives of those children who were taken, went missing, or died at these schools. The Truth and Healing Commission on U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies will be the beginning of profound healing for the Indigenous Peoples of this country.” - Christine Diindiisi McCleave, CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) & Citizen of Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation

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 by forcibly removing children from their tribal lands and families. According to NABS, it is estimated that by 1926, nearly 83 percent of AI/AN children, as young as 3 years old, were enrolled in one of at least 367 currently known Indian boarding schools across 30 states, resulting in human rights violations, including spiritual, physical, industrial, psychological, and sexual abuse, neglect, and trauma. The full effects of the Indian Boarding School policies have never been appropriately addressed, resulting in long-standing historical and intergenerational trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, premature deaths, and additional undocumented psychological trauma. 

Furthermore, the residual impact of the Indian Boarding School policies remains evident in a lack of culturally inclusive and affirming curricula and historically inaccurate representation of Native people, history, and contributions. For generations, the federal government has failed to reckon with this history, or its legacy and the ongoing historical and intergenerational trauma. The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act is an attempt to address this disgraceful chapter in history and begin healing for Native communities.

This bill will build on steps that Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has taken to address this need. On June 22, 2021, Secretary Haaland announced that the Interior Department would conduct an initial investigation of the Indian boarding school policies and their consequences, marking the start of the federal government’s reckoning with this painful legacy. This week, the Department of the Interior announced that the Department will begin tribal consultations on this Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. 

Text of The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act is here.

A one-page summary of the legislation is here.

The complete list of bill supporters and their statements of support is here