S.B. 1723: The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act

Photo Credit: Cumberland County Historical Society Photo Archives

On June 20, 2024, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), vice chair of the Committee, announced the release of Senate Bill 1723 (S.B.1723), the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act, from the Committee.  

This landmark legislation aims to establish a federal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated under the federal government’s former Indian boarding school policies. The bill now advances to the Senate floor for consideration. 

“It is the responsibility of the U.S. government to come to terms with the dark legacy of the Indian boarding school era, and to help all those affected to find healing. That’s why I introduced legislation with Senator Warren to create this formal truth and healing commission,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “By acknowledging past wrongs and actively working toward transparency and justice, we can begin to rebuild trust with Indigenous communities who still feel the repercussions of these federal assimilationist policies. The details and the work documented in today’s committee report further demonstrate the need for this legislation. I encourage my colleagues to act quickly to enact this legislation into law before the end of the year.” 

“For over a century, the cruel Indian Boarding School policies ripped children from their homes, and forced them into schools where they faced abuse, neglect, trauma, and even death. A Truth and Healing Commission will help us fully investigate the effects of these policies and propose ways to heal the harm caused. Today marks a critical step toward passing my bill to create that commission, and I urge Congress to pass this bill,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. 

“This bill is long overdue, and our Indian boarding school relatives and survivors deserve to be recognized,” said NABS Board of Directors President, Ruth Anna Buffalo (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation). “By passing this historic legislation, we honor the spirits of the children, their relatives and tribal communities while acknowledging their enduring strength and resilience. This is a significant step towards healing our nations.” 

“With bipartisan support and a collective commitment to progress, this legislation marks a significant step toward truth, justice, and healing for tribal nations, communities and others who need to understand the long history of violence against Native children and families,” said NABS CEO, Deborah Parker (Tulalip Tribes). “We are confident S.B.1723 will pass with the collective support it is receiving from legislators, tribal leaders, religious organizations, community members and allies.” 

Last week, H.R. 7227, the companion bill to S.B.1723, progressed as it garnered support from the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  

This represents the bill’s most significant progress yet. By supporting this legislation, we are taking a crucial step toward recognizing and honoring boarding school survivors, descendants and those who did not return home. Tribal communities and individuals deserve the opportunity to heal from historical injustices in a manner that is meaningful and consistent with their cultural values. 

The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) is dedicated to advocating for Native peoples impacted by U.S. Indian boarding schools. NABS seeks truth through education and research, justice through activism and policy advocacy, and healing through programs and traditional gatherings. 

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