Equity & Diversity

Native American Advocates Testify on Need for Recovery Efforts From Boarding School Trauma

By Libby Stanford — June 22, 2022 3 min read
Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland visits the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, Friday, June 17, 2022. Haaland spoke of the U.S. Department of Interior's efforts to help Native American communities heal from Indian Boarding School policies during a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

For Native American people like La Quen Náay Liz Medicine Crow, the opportunity to tell stories about abuse and neglect at the hands of federal Indian boarding schools policies is an opportunity to heal.

Crow, the president and CEO of the First Alaskans Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Alaskan native communities thrive, described her family’s experience with boarding schools during testimony at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing Wednesday.

“My mother asked [my grandmother] a question about her experience with boarding schools, and my grandmother responded, ‘I can tell you what happened physically, but I still can’t talk about what happened inside,’” Crow said.

At Wednesday’s hearing, the Senate committee discussed a path forward in the wake of a U.S. Department of Interior investigative report into the experiences of Native American children who attended 408 boarding schools between 1819 and 1969. The commission also discussed a Senate bill that would establish a Truth and Healing Commission on Boarding School Policies, which Native American advocates like Crow say is a crucial first step to the healing of Native American people.

The bill and the Interior Department investigations mark the first time the federal government has acknowledged the impacts of the boarding school policies.

“This commission will open up a pathway where these stories from people, who are now elders, will be heard,” Crow said.

The ‘road to healing’

The report’s findings were a harrowing description of what Native American students endured. Schools prevented students from interacting with their families or communities, forced them to stop speaking their native language, made them perform manual labor, cut their hair, and, in some instances, covered up their deaths.

The department identified marked or unmarked burial sites at 53 schools across the United States, and officials expect to discover more. The findings have launched an Interior Department initiative, involving a “road to healing” tour to hear directly from survivors of the school.

“We know this won’t be easy but it is a history that we must learn from if we are to heal from this tragic era,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet position.

Haaland choked back tears as she shared her testimony Wednesday. Her grandparents were among the children removed from their families to attend the boarding schools when they were 8 years old until they turned 18.

The bill to establish the Truth and Healing Commission, which was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., would take the Interior Department’s work further. The commission would be dedicated to investigating and documenting human rights violations caused by the boarding school policies and their intergenerational impact on American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians.

The commission would also be tasked with holding public hearings for Native American communities to “testify, discuss, and add to the documentation of the impacts of the physical, psychological and spiritual violence of Indian boarding schools.”

The commission will develop recommendations for the federal government to acknowledge and heal the trauma caused by the boarding school policies. The recommendations would include resources and assistance, establishing a nationwide hotline for survivors and family members, and recommendations to prevent any modern-day attempts to remove Native American children from their families and communities.

“It’s one thing to share your story within your home or in your community but it’s another [thing] to share it where it’s going to be validated by the outside entities that brought this on,” said Sandra White Hawk, president of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. “It brings a healing in itself.”


Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Boosting Student and Staff Mental Health: What Schools Can Do
Join this free virtual event based on recent reporting on student and staff mental health challenges and how schools have responded.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
Practical Methods for Integrating Computer Science into Core Curriculum
Dive into insights on integrating computer science into core curricula with expert tips and practical strategies to empower students at every grade level.
Content provided by Learning.com

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Race Is a Big Factor in School Closures. What You Need to Know
Districts are more likely to close majority Black schools, researcher says.
5 min read
Key in keyhole on wood door
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Equity & Diversity Opinion There's a Difference Between Equity and Equality. Schools Need to Understand That
Equity looks different depending on the situation, and it's not always straightforward. That can cause confusion.
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Equity & Diversity What the Research Says New National Data Show Depth of Disparities in a Chaotic Year of Schooling
The first federal civil rights data released since the pandemic show that inequities persisted even when school buildings shut down.
10 min read
Tanya Holyfield, a second grade teacher with Manchester Academic Charter School, teaches remote students from her classroom on March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh.
Tanya Holyfield, a 2nd grade teacher at Manchester Academic Charter School, teaches remote students from her classroom on March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. New federal data from the 2020-21 school year show that longstanding inequities among groups of students did not change much even in a year when many students spent all or part of the year in remote and hybrid learning.
Andrew Rus/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Equity & Diversity Opinion Am I Anti-Equity? You Decide
The push for equity has taken us into territory where "pro-equity" ideologues are doing destructive things in the education space.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty