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In a major win for Native survivors and communities, Congress took an important step forward last week in the journey to reconciliation and healing from the harms of the Indian boarding schools era.

On Thursday, June 13, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act (H.R. 7227) passed the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in an overwhelming 34-4 vote. 

FCNL’s network has been a crucial force in pushing this legislation forward. We must continue to build momentum.

While there is still much work to be done, this bipartisan vote shows that Truth and Healing is gaining momentum. 

FCNL’s network has been a crucial force in pushing this legislation forward. In March, more than 300 young advocates traveled to Washington, D.C. to help build support for the bill, holding more than 100 lobby visits during this year’s Spring Lobby Weekend.

In the days leading up to the committee hearing, hundreds of advocates built on those efforts, sending emails to their members of Congress urging them to support the bill. It is a testament to the continued dedication of Quakers and friends that so many Congresspeople heard from their constituents on this issue.  

Why We Need Truth and Healing 

From the early 1800s to the 1960s, the federal government authorized a series of policies that established “Indian Boarding Schools.” These schools were rife with abuse, neglect, disease, and malnutrition. Many children who attended never saw their families again.

Schools were established with the goal of “Christianizing” Native children. They were largely run by churches, including Quakers, some of whom helped conceive the Indian Boarding School system. 

Despite over a century of abuses, the federal government has never taken accountability for its role in these policies. The Truth and Healing bill, and its Senate companion (S.1723), would constitute the first federal acknowledgment of these injustices.

Congress must finally begin the process toward accountability and healing for this dark period in our nation’s history. 

It would create a commission to investigate and document the harms of Indian Boarding School policies. This legislation would also create a much-needed forum for boarding school survivors and their descendants to share their experiences, in a culturally respectful and private setting. 

For faith communities, cooperation with the commission is a necessary step to creating right relationships with Native peoples. FCNL was one of nine major faith organizations to sign a letter encouraging support for the legislation this year. Other faith groups have also begun to acknowledge their role in Indian Boarding School Policies. Last Friday, the U.S. Council of Bishops released a statement acknowledging their role and encouraging cooperation with government investigations into boarding schools. 

Next Steps  

With the bill passing through the Education and Workforce Committee, the next step will be for committee staff to compile a report on the bill that includes any congressional findings, statements from representatives, and the Congressional Budget Office’s budget report on the bill.

Once this report is filed, other committees with jurisdiction over the bill will have a chance to either hear the bill or “waive” their right to consider it. There are two other committees with jurisdiction — the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. Ideally, these committees will waive their right to hear the bill, clearing the way for a full vote in the House. 

In the Senate, the companion bill, S. 1723, was heard over a year ago. We are still waiting for the committee to release its report on the bill. Once the report has been released, the bill will head to the full Senate for a vote. 

In the meantime, it’s crucial that we continue to build momentum.

You can help by writing to your legislators to encourage them to support and co-sponsor the Truth and Healing bill to finally begin the process toward accountability and healing for this dark period in our nation’s history. 

Rachel Overstreet headshot

Rachel Overstreet

Legislative Representative for Native American Advocacy

Rachel Overstreet (Choctaw Nation) is FCNL’s legislative representative for Native American Advocacy. She advocates for policies that honor tribal sovereignty, help Native communities succeed, and repair relationships between faith communities, the government, and Native people.