Although their term as community organizers ended in May, the commitment of the 2022-2023 Advocacy Corps to supporting Native American issues has not. For ten months, they lobbied for the establishment of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools.
On May 18, 2023, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S. 1723) was reintroduced by Sen, Elizabeth Warren (MA) in the 118th Congress.
When passed, this bill would establish the first formal United States commission to investigate and document the policies and practices of the 367 federally sponsored, faith-run Indian boarding schools that were created in 1860s through the 1960s. It would also support the creation of a forum for Native Americans to share their experiences and the impact of these schools on multiple generations.
Lobbying for this bill started during the 117th Congress when FCNL advocates worked in solidary with Native American tribes to build bipartisan support for it. In the 117th Congress, the Truth and Healing Commission bill garnered 87 co-sponsors in the House and 26 co-sponsors in the Senate.
The Advocacy Corps’ 15 young organizers helped secure more bipartisan support for the bill in the 118th Congress. Their lobbying directly resulted in adding two more senate co-sponsors.
The organizers spoke with hundreds of people about the ins and outs of the bill, creating much-needed dialogue about the importance of the bill and how it affects their communities. In Phoenix, AZ, organizer Karime Rodriguez cemented her community-building and engagement work when she spoke with over 30 high school students about the bill.
The students had been learning about American history through a Native American lens. They were knowledgeable about indigenous concepts, community, and identities, but after Karime’s training, they had the tools to speak with their legislators about why they believed this bill must pass.
In South Dakota, organizer Rachel Overstreet (Choctaw Nation), from South Dakota, arranged a meeting with Rep. Dusty Johnson (SD).
Together with five other constituents, they told him their stories of how the bill would impact them and their community.
Like Karime and Rachel, all the 15 Advocacy Corps organizers created spaces of learning and growth as they developed relationships with the staff and members of Congress. Since starting their program in August 2022, they have organized 56 lobby visits where they were joined by 107 constituents. The organizers also had 27 media engagements, mainly letters to the editor.
The 2022-2023 cohort of Advocacy Corps consisted of Jamie Canty of Newport News, VA; Aiyana Coard (Shinnecock Indian Nation) of New York, NY; China Copperstone of Briny Breezes, FL; Julie Flores-Castillo of Red Bank, NJ; Dillon Grubb of Norfolk, NE; Helina Kassa of Sandy Spring, MD; Shyamaa Khan of Amherst, MA; Meril Mousoom of St. Paul, MN; Kiran Nwakanma of Orlando, FL; Rachel Overstreet of Sioux Falls, SD; Destini Amaris Perkins of Vista, CA; Karime Rodriguez Ramirez of Phoenix, AZ; Anne Rants of Arcata, CA; Jessica Russell of McEwen, TN; Taylor Treviño of Austin, TX; and Ky’Asia Washington Blanchard of Schenectady, NY.
It’s been an incredible journey to witness the 2022-2023 Advocacy Corps organizers grow in their work and their relationships within their local communities. But as they end their fellowship with FCNL, we also welcome 20 organizers who comprise the 2023–2024 Advocacy Corps. They will be lobbying on violence interrupter programs.