UINO supports the formation of a commission as a step toward healing and justice for Indian Boarding School survivors and families

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- United Indian Nations of Oklahoma (UINO) supports the progress of H.R. 7227, a bill establishing the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has scheduled H.R. 7227 for a full committee markup on Thursday, June 13. During this session, committee members can offer amendments, recommendations, and revisions to the bill.

This landmark legislation, introduced by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla), a Chickasaw Nation citizen, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, seeks to form a Commission to investigate, document, and report on the histories and long-term effects of Indian Boarding Schools and Indian Boarding School policies on Native peoples. The Commission’s findings would develop recommendations to promote healing for Indian Boarding School survivors, their descendants and their communities.

UINO Chairman and Shawnee Chief Ben Barnes has been a staunch advocate for the legislation. He previously testified before Congress on federal assimilation-era policies and has played a key role in pushing for the establishment of this Commission. Barnes urges the House Committee on Education and the Workforce to pass the bill in its current form, which will allow the Commission to go further investigating the harm caused by 150 years of Federal Indian Boarding School Policy.

“It’s been two years since the Department of Interior released its first-ever Federal Indian Boarding School Investigative Report showing the world what we have known for two centuries. The United States carried out a federal policy of genocide and extermination against Native peoples, and their weapon against our youngest and most vulnerable was the policy of Indian Boarding Schools,” Chief Barnes said. “The next step is reconciliation and healing for the generations who’ve dealt with the trauma that followed, which begins with establishing the Truth and Healing Commission to investigate further.”

The Department of the Interior’s comprehensive report on the Federal Indian Boarding School System, released in May 2022, showed the federal government operated 408 boarding schools across 37 states, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawaii, from 1819 to 1969.

“Oklahoma was home to almost 100 Indian boarding schools, about 20 percent of all the boarding schools in the United States,” said Margo Gray, Executive Director of UINO. “Addressing and recognizing the pervasive and generational trauma suffered by Indians in Oklahoma as a result of this cruel U.S. policy is central to the mission and purpose of the United Indian Nations of Oklahoma.”

The 2022 report by the Interior uncovered at least 53 burial sites, with more likely to be discovered. As a descendant of survivors, Chief Barnes has dedicated years to revealing the full extent of atrocities inflicted upon Native children and families.

“Imagine being a child and looking out your school window every day and seeing a cemetery, knowing it might be for you. What that does psychologically is incomprehensible,” Barnes said. “But it’s becoming apparent every day that more people want to talk about their experiences, and descendants want to find out what happened to their family members. That can only happen by passing this bill in full faith with the power to investigate thoroughly.”

H.R. 7227 includes provisions to investigate documents and research conducted by private individuals, private entities, and non-Federal Government entities, whether domestic or foreign, including religious institutions. It also mandates that a comprehensive report be provided to the President, Congress, the Attorney General, the Library of Congress, and other federal offices.

National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition CEO Deborah Parker (Tulalip Tribes) will update UINO and its members on the legislation and other efforts toward healing and reconciliation at UINO’s quarterly meeting on Tuesday, June 18. The meeting takes place at Buffalo Run Casino & Resort from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For information on membership with UINO, visit https://www.uinoklahoma.com/.