On a day recognized by many as the National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, federal, congressional, and community partners took action toward truth and reconciliation for Indian Boarding Schools. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) solemnly acknowledged the occasion but was heartened by these actions.

“Today we join our relatives in Canada to recognize September 30, 2021, as a National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, and reaffirm our commitment to truth and reconciliation for Tribal Nations,” said NCAI President Fawn Sharp. “We, along with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and our brothers and sisters across the continent, pay homage to our elders and the losses they were forced to endure. We mourn for our communities, our cultures and languages, and the innocence that was stolen. NCAI will continue to work to ensure that none of our American Indian and Alaska Native children are ever forgotten and to ensure the wrongs imposed upon both past and present generations will never be repeated.”

In one of several actions taken on to reconcile with the legacy of federal boarding schools, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) released a Dear Tribal Leader Letter announcing three tribal consultations on the implementation of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative. The Initiative will culminate in a report due to the Secretary of the Interior by April 1, 2022. In June, Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Department of the Interior’s Federal Boarding School Initiative to review the legacy of federal boarding school policies on American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities at the NCAI 2021 Mid-Year Conference.

NCAI applauds this historic first step from DOI and calls upon Congress to take further action and conduct an official Congressional Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies.

In this vein, Senator Elizabeth Warren, alongside Representatives Sharice Davids and Tom Cole, introduced mirror, bipartisan legislation to establish a commission to investigate Indian Boarding School policies and practices, protect unmarked graves, support repatriation, and stop modern-day assimilation practices.

“The Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act would provide an important avenue for an investigation about the losses that occurred through the Indian Boarding School Policies and the lasting consequences of the violence of this attempted genocide,” said Juana Majel Dixon, NCAI Board Secretary and Traditional Councilwoman of the Pauma Band of Mission Indians. “Only through a formal investigation which includes meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations and significant input from survivors and their descendants, can the U.S. begin to reconcile with the past and can tribal communities begin to move toward healing from the egregious abuses which occurred.”

Additionally, Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a concurrent formal resolution to officially designate September 30, 2021, as a National Day of Remembrance for U.S. Indian Boarding Schools to recognize, honor, and support the lost children, survivors, and their families. In her remarks on the Senate floor, Senator Murkowski acknowledged the lasting impact of federal boarding school policies on AI/AN communities.

“Our Nation’s history and the treatment of Native American people is not an easy one to tell, it's not easy to hear, or to acknowledge, but our discomfort in sharing painful collective history probably pales in comparison to the lived experience and the realities that so many Native people continue to face today… The impact of these actions authorized by our government upon Native American people and cultures is something that we never can truly make whole. In many respects, Native cultures were gutted by the impact and loss of Native children, and that is something that we as American people need to acknowledge, learn from, and reckon with in order to support Indian self-determination and healing.”

NCAI will host a session to further discussion on this topic titled “Boarding Schools: Our Truth, Our Reconciliation” on October 11, 2021 during its 78th Annual Convention.

About the National Congress of American Indians:

Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.

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