Quakers and friends in the FCNL community have been closely following the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act. With a deep concern for the need to advance justice, accountability, and healing for the atrocities of the Indian boarding school era, our network has faithfully uplifted this legislation through intergenerational advocacy.
Why this Legislation is Needed
From the early 1800s through the 1960s, Christian churches collaborated with the government to create hundreds of boarding schools intended to strip Native children of their Indigenous identities, beliefs, and languages. The conditions at these institutions were horrific. Many children experienced abuse, neglect, and trauma. Yet, the federal government has never conducted a full exploration of the harms and impacts of this federal policy.
The establishment of a Truth and Healing Commission would change that. It would establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government’s Indian boarding school policies and make recommendations to Congress. This is seen as a deeply significant step for tribal nations, which continue to navigate the intergenerational consequences of the boarding school era. For faith communities, it would serve as an important act of reconciliation.
Support for this Legislation Built in the 117th Congress—Now It’s Been Reintroduced
FCNL advocates worked in solidary with Tribes to build bipartisan support for this legislation in the 117th Congress (2021-2022). On May 18, 2023, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) formally reintroduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 1723) for consideration in the 118th Congress (2023-2024).
Just a month later, we’re seeing progress. On June 7, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee held a business meeting to consider the bill. At the markup, the Committee invited Sen. Warren to join Committee members on the dais. She offered a strong statement, saying: “The federal government’s Indian Boarding School Policies caused unimaginable suffering and trauma that linger on in tribal communities today, and it is long overdue that the federal government fully reckon with this history and its legacy.”
“It is no question that this work will be painful, but it is important—and long overdue.”
“It is no question that this work will be painful, but it is important—and long overdue,” she added.
Changes to Bill May Clear Way for Senate Passage
In the Senate hearing, the Committee considered a revised version of the bill, also known as a substitute, offered by Chair Brian Schatz (HI) and Vice Chair Lisa Murkowski (AK). The
Some of the changes were technical, such as modifying definitions of language in the text. One notable change was an amendment that redefines the commission’s ability to issue subpoenas in the course of its investigations. This was a provision that concerned some lawmakers in the previous session of Congress and kept the bill from advancing.
Subpoena power is a necessary tool for the Commission’s process of truth-telling, revelation, and accountability. Access to records and documents held by institutions that operated Indian boarding schools will help to ensure justice for victims, families, and tribal communities. As we work to advance this critical legislation, FCNL will call on lawmakers to honor this bipartisan preservation of the subpoena power and pass the Truth and Healing Commission bill.