Democrats seek support services for survivors of Native American residential schools


WASHINGTON – Democratic lawmakers are pushing federal agencies to provide support to survivors and communities affected by the policies of Indian residential schools, the practice for decades of forcibly sending Native American children to distant residential schools that reject their tribal cultures.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) And Representative Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) this month sent a request to the government to put in place “culturally appropriate supports” for the trauma that Native American communities may experience in the country. beginning of the federal government. to investigate the painful history of these schools.

This support could include the creation of a hotline or the provision of counseling services. Nineteen other members of Congress signed the letter to the heads of the Indian Health Service, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Health and Human Services.

They understand Sens. Cory Booker (DN.J.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D -Nev.) And representatives Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) And Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).


What is at issue are years of trauma caused by pressure from the federal government, starting in the late 1800s, to remove hundreds of thousands of Native American children from their communities.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland has asked her agency to investigate the painful chapter in U.S. history. This investigation will include trying to identify the children who attended, as well as finding registers of cemeteries or burial sites linked to schools that may contain unidentified human remains. Two of the schools were in Colorado: Grand Junction Indian School in Grand Junction and Fort Lewis Indian School in Hesperus, west of Durango.

As the investigation unfolds, the 21 members of Congress want the federal government to do more to help Native American communities process the investigation’s findings.

“The legacy of these policies continues to impact Indigenous communities through intergenerational trauma, grief over the loss of children who have never returned, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearances. , disparities in health, addiction, premature death, hopelessness and other undocumented psychological trauma, ”the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

Specifically, they want to see the Indian Health Service work with other agencies to support survivors, their families and their communities, as the investigation “will inevitably bring to light extremely disturbing episodes in our country’s history.”

The letter from lawmakers was prompted by a request from the National Indian Health Board, a nonprofit organization that provides health policy research for the 574 federally recognized tribes, and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition , a non-profit organization formed by Native American groups a decade ago. .

“The first step we need to do is take care of our residential school survivors,” said Deborah Parker, member of the Tulalip Tribes and director of policy and advocacy for the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Parker added that she was grateful to lawmakers for the letter “for recognizing the importance and urgency of building trauma-informed supports for our Native American, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian parents.”

Home Secretary Deb Haaland speaks after then-President-elect Joe Biden announced his climate and energy appointments at the Queen Theater on December 19, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Joshua Roberts / Getty Images)

A painful story

India’s health service is reviewing lawmakers’ request and discussing next steps, according to a statement by an agency spokesperson.

“The IHS recognizes the role that trauma resulting from violence, victimization, colonization and systemic racism play in the lives of Native American and Native Alaskan populations, particularly the native youth who are 2,5 times more likely to experience trauma compared to their non-natives. peers, ”the agency said in the statement.

The Home Office plans to begin a tribal consultation in late fall to discuss how best to share sensitive information and protect burial sites and sacred burial traditions, a spokesperson for agency at States Newsroom. Officials say they are working on compiling decades of files and records for the project, so they can identify available and missing information.

The scope of this work is significant: The federal government has waged a large-scale campaign for nearly a century to assimilate hundreds of thousands of Native American children through boarding schools that have separated the children from their families and from their families. their culture.

Students have had to put their belongings back on, wear uniforms, cut their braids, adopt new names, and abandon their languages ​​and cultural practices.

The children studied English, memorized the names of American presidents, and worked on school grounds or on missions in nearby towns. Disease and poor health care ravaged some schools and in some cases the children never made it home.

The federal government operated 25 off-reserve federal residential schools, from the 1800s through the 1970s. There were over 300 other schools operated by religious groups with government support.

Haaland, former congressman from New Mexico, is the country’s first Native American cabinet secretary and a registered member of the Pueblo de Laguna. She instructed the Home Office in June to investigate the legacy of the schools – a process she said would be “long and difficult”.

Learn from the Canadian survey

Halaand’s announcement of the investigation came as two mass graves were discovered near former residential schools in Canada after an ongoing investigation there. The Canadian government launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 to deal with the legacy of its residential schools.

Based on the experience in Canada, some Native American advocacy groups in the United States want the U.S. government to be more proactive in building support for their communities. The National Indian Health Board and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition have called on Warren and other lawmakers to seek support services.

The groups would like the United States to put in place resources such as a national hotline, trauma-informed mental health counseling available to survivors and their communities, and financial assistance for Native American communities to search for venues. of burial and honor their dead.

“We believe that healing will need to be community led and that tribal nations should be at the forefront of determining what mental, spiritual and physical supports their citizens will need as this truth process unfolds,” said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, member of Turtle Mountain Anishinaabe and CEO of the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

Ultimately, her group would like to see an official Residential School Truth and Healing Commission established to guide the process.

Last year, Warren and Haaland – who was then a member of Congress – introduced a law this would create such a commission to investigate, document and recognize past injustices of the federal government’s residential school policy.

Aides for Warren said she was working with partners on plans to reintroduce the bill this year.

Earlier this month, the Canadian federal government committed $ 321 million for programs to help survivors and their communities in Canada. Some of this money will be used to fund the search for other burial sites and to commemorate deceased children. Further funds are provided for mental health services to support healing.

As reported by the CBCCanadian government officials said they heard from First Nations people across Canada that the discovery of the burial sites over the summer had opened up old wounds.

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