This week, Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK-04) and Sharice Davids (D-KS-03), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Native American Caucus, reintroduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2024 — legislation to investigate, document, and report on the histories of Indian boarding schools, Indian boarding school policies, and long-term impacts on Native communities. Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and longest-serving Native American in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin and one of the first two Native women elected to Congress, are committed to investigating the abuses at these institutions, which are connected to an estimated 500 student deaths.
“For too long, the stories of Native children stripped of their heritage, families, and lives were hidden. We must bring the light of truth to this dark chapter in our nation’s history and establishing this commission is imperative to that,” said Congressman Cole, Member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “It will provide needed answers and build a pathway to healing for survivors and tribal families. Turning acknowledgment into action will help ensure the harms of the past are never repeated.”
“My grandparents are survivors of Indian Boarding Schools, but many other children never returned to their families or their communities. Those that did lost generations worth of cultural knowledge, stories, and traditions,” said Congresswoman Sharice Davids, Member of the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin and Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. “Establishing a Truth and Healing Commission would bring survivors, experts, federal partners, and Tribal leaders to the table to fully investigate what happened to our relatives and work towards a brighter path for the next seven generations.”
The bipartisan Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act of 2024 would:
- Establish a formal commission to investigate, document, and acknowledge past injustices of the federal government’s Indian Boarding School Policies.
- This includes attempts to terminate Native cultures, religions, and languages; assimilation practices; and human rights violations.
- Develop recommendations for federal entities to aid in healing the historical and intergenerational trauma passed down in Native families and communities.
- Provide a forum for victims to speak about personal experiences tied to these human rights violations.
There were 76 federal Indian boarding schools in Oklahoma, which accounts for 19 percent of the total amount of boarding schools known to have existed across the nation. Federal Indian boarding schools in Oklahoma were often overflowed due to intentionally mixing more than 30 different tribes in attempts to unsettle relations and prevent the speaking of common languages.
There were 14 federal Indian boarding schools in Kansas, including the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School in Kansas’ Third District. Located in Fairway, Kansas, it is now preserved as the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site. According to the Kansas State Historical Society, the school operated from 1838 to 1862 and at its largest enrolled nearly 200 children.
This bill has been endorsed by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) and National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).