Murkowski Joins 26 Senators to Reintroduce Bill Seeking Healing for Stolen Native Children and their Communities

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, joined 26 senators in reintroducing S.1723, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, which seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. The bill 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.

“It is past time the U.S. government come to terms with the dark legacy of the Indian boarding school era, which attempted to destroy Native American cultures, religions, and languages,” said Senator Murkowski. “A formal truth and healing commission will help address those past injustices and support processes that bring healing to survivors, their families, and communities. I thank my colleagues who continue to support this legislation and look forward to the healing and justice it will help provide.”

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. 

In May 2022, Senator Murkowski released a public statement responding to the Department of the Interior’s release of its initial investigative report initiated by its Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, which called for a comprehensive review of the legacy of federal boarding school policies. Following that report, Senator Murkowski helped lead a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) oversight hearing on “Volume 1 of the Department of the Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative Investigative Report” and a legislative hearing to receive testimony on S. 2907, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, of which she was also a co-sponsor.

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), Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB), 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 bill is led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), and also co-sponsored by Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), 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.), 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 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 Senator Warren.

“Indian boarding school policies are a dark chapter in our nation’s history. They ripped away Native kids from their families, suppressed Indigenous language and culture, and left generational trauma that continues to this day,” said Senator Schatz, chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Untangling this complex history will be difficult, but in partnership with Native survivors and relatives, our bill will help us take a first step towards righting this historic wrong. I look forward to moving quickly to consider this bill in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.”

“The Indian Boarding School Policies were inhumane, unjust, and racist policies designed to terminate and forcibly assimilate Native culture and communities,” said Senator Markey. “The Truth and Healing Commission will be a critical step forward in not only recognizing the truth of our nation's horrific past but supporting the healing of countless Native people and tribal communities who have suffered this intergenerational trauma. I am proud to support this legislation and work in partnership with native people in Massachusetts, and across the nation, as we address this historic wrong.” 

“For centuries, the U.S. government sought to eliminate Tribal communities and their cultures. The U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies, which forcibly removed Native children from their communities in an effort to erase Native cultures and languages, devastated communities and caused horrific generational trauma. Establishing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Policy is a step towards healing and will help provide long overdue answers to Native communities,” said Senator Smith.

“Our country must reckon with the deeply painful history of Indian boarding school policies that caused irreparable damage to Native communities.  We must understand and fully acknowledge the federal government’s attempts to eradicate Native cultures, religions, and languages, often by violating the rights of Native communities,” said Senator Durbin. “I’m signing on to the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act to ensure that Indian boarding school policies are properly investigated and to aid Native American families as they heal from the trauma inflicted by our nation’s shameful history.”

“The harsh and inhumane treatment inflicted upon Native communities throughout our nation's history remains a painful scar. This legislation is a crucial step towards us acknowledging and reckoning with that dark chapter,” said Senator Booker. “The creation of the Truth and Healing Commission would finally offer a much-needed platform to investigate past injustices, give survivors a chance to share their stories, and address the enduring trauma suffered by Native families and communities that persists to this day.”

“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.”

“Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes enrich our state in unique and valuable ways. This commission will hold the federal government accountable for harmful policies against native children and identify ways to ensure healthy learning environments that protect and honor native cultures,” said Senator Sinema.

“Indian boarding schools were a tragic chapter in U.S. history, and we must confront these abuses and support the many tribal communities who were targeted,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I am proud to support the creation of the Truth and Healing Commission and will continue to work with Nevada’s Stewart Indian School and Native organizations across the country to help address these past injustices and stand up for Indigenous children and families across the country.”

“The legacy of the Federal Indian Boarding School era is a stain on our nation's history. Native communities and Tribal Nations today continue to bear the scars inflicted by the federal government and it’s time for us to a take steps to make amends,” said Senator Luján.“I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this legislation to begin the reconciliation process for the boarding school era with our Native brothers and sisters.”

“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 Senator Bennet.

“Establishing a formal Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools is long overdue,” said Senator Heinrich. “As we continue our work to support Tribal sovereignty, Native language revitalization, and self-determination in education, the federal government also needs to fully acknowledge the trauma inflicted by U.S. Indian Boarding School policies.”

Related Issues: Alaska Natives & Rural Alaska