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Heinrich, Luján Introduce Legislation Seeking Healing for Stolen Native Children and their Communities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) joined U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and over two dozen colleagues in introducing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act, legislation that seeks healing for stolen Native children and their communities. Originally introduced in 2020 with then-Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), 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.

“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.”

“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.”

"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. 

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 addition to Senators Martin Heinrich, Ben Ray Luján, and Elizabeth Warren, the bill is cosponsored by Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Ranking Member 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.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).