Senator Grassley and Indian Boarding Schools Commission

Yesterday we had a meeting with Senator Ernst’s Regional Director John Hollinrake, to ask the senator to co-sponsor the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act (S 2907). John was very polite and attentive but offered no feedback.

It was a much different story just now when I had a Skype meeting with Reid Willis in Senator Grassley’s Washington, DC, office.

Reid was familiar with the history of Indian Boarding Schools. He told me Senator Grassley agreed with intent of S 2907 with two exceptions. He feels the commission would duplicate work already being done by the Department of Interior’s Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative (see below). And that such a commission should not have subpoena power. Senator Grassley feels this particularly because he is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

I asked him to contact me if Quakers could be helpful as the investigations into the Indian Boarding Schools progress.

Reid then told me Senator Grassley’s efforts have been focused on the RECA Extension Act of 2022, which was recently passed and signed into law by President Biden.

Public Law No: 117-139 (06/07/2022)

RECA Extension Act of 2022

This bill extends a program that compensates individuals who were exposed to radiation from atomic weapons testing or uranium mining or processing and who subsequently developed specified cancers or other medical conditions. The bill terminates the program two years after the bill’s enactment.

Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

I know that this process will be long and difficult. I know that this process will be painful. It won’t undo the heartbreak and loss we feel. But only by acknowledging the past can we work toward a future that we’re all proud to embrace.”   
— Secretary Deb Haaland 

Between 1819 through the 1970s, the United States implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. The purpose of federal Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children by forcibly removing them from their families, communities, languages, religions and cultural beliefs. While children attended federal boarding schools, many endured physical and emotional abuse and, in some cases, died.

In June 2021, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, a comprehensive effort to recognize the troubled legacy of federal Indian boarding school policies with the goal of addressing their intergenerational impact and to shed light on the traumas of the past.

The announcement directed the Department, under the leadership of Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland, to prepare a report detailing available historical records relating to federal Indian boarding schools and to develop the first official list of sites. On May 11, 2022, Secretary Haaland and Assistant Secretary Newland released Volume 1 of the investigative report. This report lays the groundwork for the continued work of the Interior Department to address the intergenerational trauma created by historical federal Indian boarding school policies. It reflects an extensive and first-ever inventory of federally operated schools, including profiles and maps.

The investigation found that from 1819 to 1969, the federal Indian boarding school system consisted of 408 federal schools across 37 states or then territories, including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. The investigation identified marked or unmarked burial sites at approximately 53 different schools across the school system. As the investigation continues, the Department expects the number of identified burial sites to increase.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting closures of federal facilities reflect the need for further investigation. The report identifies next steps that will be taken in a second volume, aided by a new $7 million investment from Congress through fiscal year 2022.

As part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and in response to recommendations from the report, Secretary Haaland has launched “The Road to Healing.” This year-long commitment to travel across the country will allow American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system the opportunity to share their stories, help connect communities with trauma-informed support, and facilitate collection of a permanent oral history.

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