Skip to main content

In 2021, the bodies of nine Native American children who died at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School were returned home, more than 100 years after U.S. government policies forcibly separated them from their families and communities. These children were members of the Rosebud Sioux (Sicangu Lakota) Nation in South Dakota. They were forcibly relocated more than a thousand miles away from their homes, stripped of their culture, deprived of their language, and forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. Their families and communities had fought for decades to bring them home. These atrocities occurred with direct support from the U.S. government under the U.S. Indian Boarding School Policies

Native communities are still grappling with the consequences of the U.S. government’s boarding school policies.

For the last several years, FCNL has made it a legislative priority to pass the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act (S. 1723; H.R. 7227), standing with Native survivors, their families, and their communities to seek justice and healing for the continued legacy of the Indian Boarding School Era.

At FCNL’s Spring Lobby Weekend from March 16-19, hundreds of young adults from nationwide will come together in Washington, D.C. to continue this advocacy for truth, justice, and healing. As they do, they will be living out the words of Lakota leader Tatanka Iyotake (Sitting Bull), who implored us “To put our minds together and see what life we will make for our children.” 

The Painful Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools

For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Native children were taken from their families and placed into state and church-run boarding schools. More than 400 boarding schools were created with the goal of assimilating Native American children into white culture. The children who attended these institutions, some as young as three years old, were subjected to a wide range of abuses, including physical and sexual exploitation. Due to overcrowding and neglect, communicable diseases spread rapidly through boarding schools, taking the lives of an unknown number of Native children.  

Pupils at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania in 1900.
Pupils at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania in 1900.

While nine Rosebud Sioux Nation children from South Dakota were only able to return to their communities after their passing, many survivors of boarding schools returned home scarred and traumatized by their experiences. 

Today, Native communities are still grappling with the consequences of these policies. Research has continued to show that survivors of boarding schools, and their descendants, are far more likely to experience depression and PTSD, have a substance abuse disorder, and live in poverty.  Native communities remain some of the poorest in North America. In fact, five of the ten poorest counties in the United States are on reservations in South Dakota, including on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. 

Native Voices Call for Justice 

Native people have experienced profound loss and suffering at the hands of the U.S. government. But they are resilient. Across the United States, a reckoning is happening. Native families and communities are standing up for accountability, truth-telling, and justice, demanding that Congress take responsibility for the Indian Boarding School Era.

A reckoning is happening. Native communities are standing up for accountability, truth-telling, and justice.

The Truth and Healing Commission bill initially introduced by former Rep. and current Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), is a first step.

The bill would create a federal commission to investigate the U.S. government’s assimilation of Native children through Indian Boarding Schools and propose recommendations to begin addressing these harms. 

Native-led organizations have spent countless hours lobbying Congress and working with survivors to create a process for meaningful reconciliation. Congress has never apologized for the Indian Boarding School Era, nor taken meaningful action to address the long-term impacts that its policies had on Native communities. 

Young Adults Join the Fight for Truth 

As this year’s Spring Lobby Weekend approaches, I find myself reflecting on the work that has brought FCNL to this point. During the Indian Boarding School Era, Quakers ran more than thirty schools across the country, harming thousands of Native children. Many Quakers thought they were helping Native children by assimilating them into white culture. Alongside the work of countless Native activists, Quakers across the United States are confronting the harms of Friends’ involvement in this assimilation process and seeking to right relationships with Native American communities.

While this legislation cannot undo past harm, it is the first meaningful step toward a world where Native people and the U.S. can live in right relationship with one another. 

People: Rachel Overstreet

Rachel Overstreet

Sioux Falls, SD Advocacy Corps Organizer

Rachel Overstreet is a senior at the University of South Dakota, where she double-majors in Political Science and Philosophy. Rachel first learned about FCNL when she participated in Spring Lobby Weekend 2022.