WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers are pushing federal agencies to provide support for survivors of and communities affected by American Indian boarding school policies, the decades-long practice of forcibly sending Native American children to faraway boarding schools that rejected their tribal cultures.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) sent a request this month for the government to set up “culturally appropriate supports” for the trauma that Native American communities may experience as the federal government begins to investigate the painful history of these schools.
That support could include creating a crisis hotline or offering counseling services. Nineteen other members of Congress signed on to the letter to leaders of the Indian Health Service, Interior Department, and Department of Health and Human Services.
They include Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).
At issue are years of trauma from the federal government’s push, starting in the late 1800s, to remove hundreds of thousands of Native American children from their communities.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has directed her agency to investigate the painful chapter of U.S. history. That probe will include attempting to identify the children who attended, as well as finding records of cemeteries or burial sites connected with the schools that may contain unidentified human remains.
As the investigation unfolds, the 21 members of Congress want the federal government to do more to aid Native American communities in processing the probe’s findings.
“The legacy of these policies continues to impact Native communities through intergenerational trauma, grief over the loss of children who never returned, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, health disparities, substance abuse, premature deaths, despair, and additional undocumented psychological trauma,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
Specifically, they want to see the Indian Health Service work with other agencies to support survivors, their families and their communities as the investigation “will inevitably shed light on extremely troubling episodes in our nation’s history.”
The lawmakers’ letter was prompted by a request from the National Indian Health Board, a nonprofit that provides health policy research for all 574 federally recognized tribes, and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a nonprofit formed by Native American groups a decade ago.
“The first step we need to take is caring for our boarding school survivors,” said Deborah Parker, a member of the Tulalip Tribes and the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition’s director of policy and advocacy.
Parker added that she’s grateful the lawmakers on the letter “have recognized the importance and urgency of putting in place trauma-informed supports for our American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian relatives.”
A painful history
The Indian Health Service is reviewing the lawmakers’ request and is discussing next steps, according to a statement from an agency spokesperson. Read more