June 02, 2023

Wyden, Merkley Reintroduce Bill Seeking Healing for Stolen Native Children and their Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they and Senate colleagues have reintroduced legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities.

“The Indian Boarding School was a shameful human rights violation perpetrated by the federal government,” Wyden said. “Attempts to terminate Native cultures, assimilation practices, and other horrendous actions by the federal government have caused Indigenous communities to suffer unimaginable pain and intergenerational trauma. The federal government must acknowledge its past injustices towards Indigenous communities and develop paths towards healing. That’s why I’m working with my Senate colleagues to pass the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act.”

“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—we must reckon with our past,” said Senator Merkley. “Creating a commission that will examine the human rights violations that took place at Indian boarding schools is a necessary step to begin to atone for the resulting and enduring intergenerational trauma.”

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act would 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 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 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 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 Policy remains evident in a lack of culturally inclusive and affirming curricula and historically inaccurate representation of AI/AN people, history, and contributions.  

The legislation was led by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Alongside Wyden and Merkley, the bill was cosponsored by signed by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, 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., 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., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., 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 is endorsed by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, National Congress of American Indians, National Indian Education Association, National Indian Health Board, National Council of Urban Indian Health, National Indian Child Welfare Association, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Seattle Indian Health Board, Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and United South and Eastern Tribes Sovereignty Protection Fund. 

A one-page bill summary is here.

The text of the bill is here.