Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Vice Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) amended S.1723, a bill that was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren on May 18 to investigate the United States’ role in the execution of Indian boarding school policies.
S.1723, the Truth & Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States, would establish a “Truth and Healing Commission” to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the assimilative policies of Indian boarding schools in the United States, while identifying the locations of children's burial sites, locating church and government records, and documenting the ongoing impacts to Native communities.
The bill is cosponsored by 28 U.S. Senators.
Since an oversight hearing in June 2022 on volume one of the Department of Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Investigative Report, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has received more than 100 written comments from Tribes, Native communities and organizations, and individuals that were analyzed to help inform updates to the bill. The Committee also received feedback from the Chief Commissioner of Canada’s Indian Residential School Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was created in 2008 and has acted as an important framework for drafting legislation in the U.S.
“We are grateful to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs for working with us to make S.1723 a stronger bill,” said Deborah Parker (Tulalip), CEO of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “The leadership from Senator Schatz and Senator Murkowski has been crucial in making this historic bill bipartisan.”
An earlier version of the bill was first introduced in 2020 by then Congresswoman Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and reintroduced by Sen. Warren in 2022, but did not make it out of committee to the Senate floor.
“Native peoples, especially boarding school survivors, deserve justice and the chance to heal. This legislation is the first step,” said Theresa Sheldon (Tulalip), Policy and Advocacy Director for the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “SCIA’s bipartisan support for this legislation demonstrates the broad recognition of the need to address the historical injustices committed against Indian Country.”
The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has garnered support for legislation from numerous Tribes, Tribal organizations, and Indigenous advocacy organizations, including the International Indian Treaty Council and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
NABS is asking its partners and supporters of this bill to contact their U.S. Senators to request they vote to pass S.1723.
"No child should ever experience abuse or trauma, which I did at the hands of the United States,” said James LaBelle Sr. (Inupiaq), Board President of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “It has deeply impacted my life, all in the name of a colonized education. My story as a boarding school survivor is one of many, and it's time for Congress to acknowledge all of us by passing S. 1723.”
Additional information on bill:
Full bill text for S.1723, as introduced.
Adopted amendments are available below.
Schatz/Murkowski Amendment KAT23574
Daines Amendment KAT23576
Daines Amendment KAT23577
Daines Amendment KAT23580
Daines Amendment KAT23597
Daines Amendment KAT23616
Mullin Amendment KAT23583
Video of Senate Committee on Indian Affairs business meeting (meeting starts at 42 minutes and 10 seconds).
Additional quotes from Native leaders:
"Whether in the classroom or the halls of Congress, everyone needs to know the true history behind Indian boarding schools in the U.S.,” said Tesia Zientek (Citizen Potawatomi Nation), President of National Indian Education Association. “With S.1723, Congress has a chance to not only acknowledge the country's wrongs, but to do something about it."
"Historical trauma impacts every Native person's health in this country, but it has never been addressed by the United States,” said William Smith (Valdez Native Tribe), President of National Indian Health Board. “This legislation will create the bridge between justice and healing for Indian boarding school survivors and their families."