House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 5444 – May 12, 2022
Indian boarding school bill up for first hearing on Capitol Hill
Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Indianz.Com

• Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act: One Pager | Endorsement List

A bill to address the harmful legacy of Indian boarding schools is finally getting its first hearing on Capitol Hill amid renewed attention to the painful era.

H.R.5444, the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, was introduced in the 117th Congress on September 30, 2021. The action coincided with National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, following an movement that began in Canada as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day.

H.R.5444 is led by Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), who was one of the first two Native women elected to Congress. Her bill enjoys bipartisan support, boasting more than 50 co-sponsors as of this week.

“U.S. Indian boarding school policies stripped children from their families and their cultures—actions that continue to impact Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities today,” said Davids, a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation. “Our country must do better to acknowledge its legacy and understand the full truth of these policies.”

To uncover the truth of the genocidal era that lasted for more than a century, the bill establishes the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States. The new high-level body would be empowered to investigate, document and acknowledge the injustices that led to the loss of language, culture and even young lives at institutions operated, maintained and supported by the federal government.

“Establishing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy will provide an important step toward resolving and healing from one of our nation’s darkest periods,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation.

“While we cannot erase this difficult chapter in our history, studying and understanding the societal, cultural and personal impact of forcibly removing Native American and Alaskan Native children from their homes, families, communities and heritage for nearly a century is certainly worth investigating,” said Cole.

Additionally, the legislation creates the Truth and Healing Advisory Committee. Organizations like the National Congress of American Indians, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, the National Indian Education Association and the National Indian Child Welfare Association will help guide the investigation, ensuring that the voices of tribal leaders, survivors, educators and subject matter experts are taken into account.

“We, along with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and our brothers and sisters across the continent, pay homage to our elders and the losses they were forced to endure,” President Fawn Sharp of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest inter-tribal advocacy organization in the U.S., said on National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools. “We mourn for our communities, our cultures and languages, and the innocence that was stolen.”

The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act first surfaced during the 116th Congress. It was introduced at the time by then-Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who now serves as Secretary of the Interior in the administration of President Joe Biden.

After taking office as the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior, Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative last June, during NCAI’s mid-year meeting. Her ancestors were among those sent to the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, nearly 2,000 miles from their Pueblo homelands in New Mexico.

Indianz.Com Video: Secretary Deb Haaland: Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative

“The federal policies that attempted to wipe out Native identity, language and culture continue to manifest in the pain our communities face, including long-standing intergenerational trauma cycles of violence and abuse disappearance of indigenous people, premature deaths, mental disorders, and substance abuse,” said Haaland, who is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna.

As work continues on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, whose initial report was due on April 1 but has not yet been publicly discussed, Haaland will be seeing some progress on an effort she started almost two years ago. The House Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States will take testimony on H.R.5444 on Thursday, marking the first time the bill has received a hearing in the U.S. Congress.

“I am honored to testify before Congress to support this critical legislation,” Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe said on Tuesday. He is one of the witnesses who will be presenting at the hearing.

“As we work to preserve and protect the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School in Fairway, Kansas, this legislation would play an important role in ensuring we discover the full truth about the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School and hundreds of other boarding schools that tried to decimate Native American culture,” said Barnes, whose family was affected by the era. His tribe, headquartered in Oklahoma, is also working with local officials in Kansas to ensure their story continues to be told.

Shawnee Tribe: Shawnee Indian Mission

H.R.5444 is the only item on the agenda for Thursday’s hearing, which takes place at 1pm Eastern in Room 1334 of the Longworth House Office. A webcast is being provided.

As for witnesses, an announcement sent on Friday by the Democratic leadership of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which houses the Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States, did not include a representative from the Biden administration. A list from the Republican minority on the panel did not show anyone from the federal side either.

According to the committee, the witness list follows:

Mr. Matthew War Bonnet
Boarding School Survivor
Oglala Sioux Tribe

Dr. Ramona Charette Klein
Boarding School Survivor
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians

Mr. James LaBelle, Sr.
Boarding School Survivor and 1st Vice President
National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

The Honorable Ben Barnes
Chief
Shawnee Tribe

Ms. Deborah Parker
Chief Executive Officer
National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

Dr. Janine Pease
Founding president and faculty member
Little Big Horn College

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition is also encouraging boarding school survivors to submit their own stories to lawmakers as they consider H.R.5444. Statements, which can be sent electronically, are being accepted by the House Committee on Natural Resources until May 26.

The U.S. Senate version of the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act is S.2907. It was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) last September and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The bill has not yet received a hearing.

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