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Indianz.Com Video: Roll Call – H.R.7227, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act – June 13, 2024
Indian boarding school bill sees renewed momentum on Capitol Hill
Thursday, June 20, 2024

Applause broke out on Capitol Hill with the advancement of a bipartisan bill that will finally help address the harmful legacy of the Indian boarding school era.

By a vote of 34 to 4, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved H.R.7227, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, at a markup on June 13. The overwhelming show of support drew an audible response from lawmakers — as well as from tribal citizens who gathered in the nation’s capital for the session.

Among those in attendance were representatives of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS). The non-profit has been lobbying the U.S. Congress to account for the educational institutions where more than than 60,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children were taken from their homes for more than a century, all in an effort to break their connection to their tribal communities.

“The legacy of Indian boarding schools unveils deep-ceded injustices that have profoundly affected and continue to resonate within tribal nations and communities,” said said NABS CEO Deborah Parker, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes who sat in the front row of the committee room as the roll call was taking place.

“Supporting H.R.7227 is crucial in acknowledging and addressing these longstanding historical wrongs, paving the way for truth, justice, and healing for survivors and their descendants,” Parker said in a news release after the vote. “We deserve to know the truth and Congress must act decisively to address the enduring trauma and embrace this moment for meaningful progress.”

“I applaud the House Committee on Education and Workforce for their bipartisan support on H.R.7227,” added NABS Director of Policy and Advocacy Ponka-We Victors-Cozad, who also attended the markup last week.

“This joint effort underscores the dedication to acknowledging and addressing historical injustices faced by Native people, a pivotal step towards fostering healing among our relatives,” said Victors-Cozad, who is from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Ponca Tribe.

Yesterday marked a historic day for Indian Country as HR 7227: The Bill to Establish a Truth and Healing Commission on…

Posted by National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition on Friday, June 14, 2024

Lawmakers, Republican and Democratic alike, expressed strong support for H.R.7227 during the markup. The bill would establish a national commission to formally investigate, document, and report on the impacts of Indian boarding school era, which involved not just the U.S. government but religious institutions and private parties.

Over six years, the federal panel would collect testimony from Indian boarding school survivors, gather relevant records and look into student deaths, among other tasks. Lawmakers said the work represents an initial step in accounting for the tragedies of what has been called one of the darkest chapters in U.S. policy and history.

“From 1819 to 1969, tens of thousands of Indian children were taken away from their families and sent to Indian boarding schools across the United States, the majority of which were run or funded by the U. S. government,” observed Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-California), a co-sponsor of the bill. “Students experienced abuse, malnutrition, and disease. They were forced to change their names, cut their hair and were beaten for speaking their Native language.”

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-New Mexico) pointed out that an investigation by the Department of the Interior documented at least 53 burial grounds at Indian boarding school sites across the nation. She said more work is needed to “uncover the truth” about a system that included more than 400 institutions, from Alaska to Florida.

“It is undeniable that these events have led to intergenerational trauma within our Native communities,” Leger Fernandez, a co-sponsor of H.R.7227, said at the markup. “We are still uncovering the harm inflicted by these boarding schools. But we must continue the work to uncover the truths of this tragic and shameful chapter in our country’s history.”

“We cannot undo the forced removal of Native children from their families or the horrific abuse they suffered under the federal government’s assimilation agenda,” added Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), whose state is home to Chemawa Indian School, one of the few boarding schools still operated by the U.S. government.

“Our job now is to provide the resources and support necessary to bring the victims stories to light, to educate the public and to facilitate healing for their descendants and for our nation,” said Bonamici, another co-sponsor of the bill.

Indianz.Com Audio: H.R.7227, Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act has been debated on Capitol Hill since 2020, when then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), one of the first two Native women in Congress, introduced the initial version of the bill. She has carried on a portion of the work as the first Native person in a presidential cabinet, where she has led the Department of the Interior to investigate its role in the removal of children from their tribal communities.

Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) has continued the legislative effort as the lead sponsor of H.R.7227. The lawmaker is the other Native woman who made history as being the first in Congress.

“I would not be here if not for the resilience of my ancestors and those who came before me — including my grandparents, who are survivors of federal Indian Boarding Schools,” Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, said in a statement. “I am glad my colleagues came together today to advance the establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission, bringing survivors, federal partners, and Tribal leaders to the table to fully investigate what happened to our relatives and work towards a brighter path for the next seven generations.”

“Indian boarding schools have had devastating impacts on Native communities. Yet, for so many years, the true stories about what happened to these Native children are unknown,” added Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), who is an original co-sponsor of H.R.7227.

“As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and the longest-serving Native American in the House of Representatives, it is a priority of mine to properly represent our Indian communities in Congress,” continued Cole, who serves as co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus along with Davids. “Therefore, I am committed to investigating the tragic abuses that occurred at these boarding schools and bringing light to this dark chapter in our nation’s history.”

H.R.7227 currently boasts 62 co-sponsors. While most are Democrats, a significant number of Republicans are backing the bill.

Roll Call: H.R.7227, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act

Despite the bipartisan nature of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, not all members of the GOP are on board. During the markup last week, all four “No” votes came from Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce: Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisconsin), Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana), Rep. Bob Good (R-Virginia) and Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Missouri). None of them spoke about why they were voting against H.R.7227.

“This commission will be a bipartisan effort to unearth the jarring history of Indian boarding schools and their potential violations of American Indian rights,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-North Carolina), who serves as chair of the committee and was among the Republicans who voted in support of H.R.7227 at the markup. Republicans control the House in the 118th Congress.

The next step for the Indian boarding school bill will be the full U.S. House of Representatives. Action is needed before the 118th Congress concludes at the end of this year, which happens to be a presidential election year. Otherwise, advocates will have to start all over again when the next legislative session begins in January 2025.

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act is also seeing renewed momentum in the U.S. Senate, where it has been introduced as S.1723. On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs completed its report on the bill, clearing it for passage in the Democratic-led chamber.

“The Committee has heard from and reflected on over 100 comments from survivors, descendants, Tribal leaders, Tribal citizens, advocates, religious organizations, local governments, and experts about the need for Congress to act and help address the intergenerational impacts of the shameful history of Indian Boarding Schools,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the legislative panel, said in a news release. “It’s long past time that we reckon with this painful history. Now that this bill is ready for floor action, I look forward to moving it through the Senate quickly.”

Like the House version, S.1723 enjoys bipartisan support. The lead sponsors are Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

'The Road to Healing'
In 2022 and 2023, the Department of the Interior conducted a series of sessions — dubbed “The Road to Healing” — to address the agency’s investigation into the Indian boarding school era. Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior

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