The genocidal history of federal boarding school policies and the generational impact on Native American communities was presented to the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs last week.
Lawmakers on the committee pledged to introduce a bill to the full Senate that would establish a Truth and Healing Commission on US residential school policies that continue to affect Indigenous children.
A large part of the presentation was a review of the Home Office’s first report which detailed how schools were used to destroy native culture by removing children from their homes, forcing them into hard labor under military instruction and by abusing students who would not submit or continued to speak traditional languages.
The Department of the Interior investigated 408 schools that operated in 36 states between 1819 and 1969.
The report was presented in May after a year-long investigation. A second report containing more details about the students and their tribal background will be released.
Wednesday’s hearing is another step for U.S. leaders to come to terms with the failures and abuses created by their government through these policies, the senators said.
The committee heard testimony from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other Native leaders, including a group of students from the Santa Fe Indian School who submitted a letter demanding a formal apology from the US government.
“The Albuquerque Indian School – built on the soil of our native lands – intentionally stripped our grandmothers and grandfathers of their traditional language and culture,” the letter reads.
Senator Ben Ray Luján (DN.M.), a member of the committee, presented and read parts of the letter on Wednesday. The letter was signed by four students in attendance who attend the SFIS Summer Policy Academy: Taryn Aguilar (San Ildefonso/Diné), Briana Toya (Jemez), Amber Garcia (San Felipe/Diné), and Leah Mountain (San Ildefonso).
Students have asked for help regarding the “generational damage” caused by boarding school policies. “Many generations of Indigenous families are deeply affected by, for example, poverty, drug addiction and loss of culture and language, preventing the transfer of our tribal laws and cultural costumes from one generation to the next. ‘other.”
Students would continue to listen to how this personally affected Secretary Haaland (Laguna). She testified that her traditional language was not taught to her by her mother in part because of the fear of abuse she learned in residential school.
“My mother, she had her hands hit with a piece of rubber hose every time she spoke Keres. That’s one of the reasons why she didn’t want to teach us Keres, our native language, because she was worried and scared,” Haaland testified before the committee. “And so you can see how easy it would be to have generations of non-native speakers because their parents are worried about the future of their children.”
Haaland shared more information about the listening tour to tribal nations affected by the boarding school era. She said the first stop will be in Oklahoma and it will be closed to the media, providing privacy for anyone who wishes to share their story.
Mental health options are also in the works. Haaland said the Interior is coordinating with the Department of Health and Human Services to offer resources to local medical providers at listening tour locations.
Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i) said he was confident the Truth and Reconciliation Bill would pass his committee and also told Haaland to submit any additional budget requests to help fund mental health services for communities unraveling this trauma. past.
A major feature of the proposed legislation is that it would give the Home Office subpoena powers to access records kept by non-governmental organisations, such as churches. The Interior report shows that about half of federal Indian residential schools received money from religious organizations. A number of church-run schools have also taken federal funds to operate schools.
Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland said the subpoena powers would give the inquiry a more comprehensive look at the time.
“It will allow us to take a closer look at each school we have on our list and better understand where these cemeteries and burial sites are,” he said, “and then start trying to come up with a plan to work with Indian Country to protect these sites.
Acknowledgment and apology for past wrongs is just one reason leaders want this investigation to grow.
Sandra White Hawk is the president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. She said her organization can model support services for people who turn to the federal government for mental health resources and cultural healing.
White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota Nation of the Rosebud Reservation) said collective experience is helpful in sharing these pasts.
“One of the main benefits of compiling this information is that Native Americans who have been impacted by the schools are better informed of the facts,” she said, “and learn that they are not alone in this experience”.
This story was published earlier by Source NM, an affiliate of the nonprofit States Newsroom network, which includes the Florida Phoenix.