Aug 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

20 Democrats urge mental health support for Indian Boarding School survivors, descendants

Photo of Sharice Davids speaking on the left and Elizabeth Warren speaking on the right

Rep. Sharice Davids (left) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (right) are leading a coalition of Democrats in urging for mental health care for Indian Boarding School survivors. Photos: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc and Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Twenty Democratic lawmakers are calling on the U.S. Indian Health Service (IHS) to provide "culturally appropriate" mental health care for Native Americans who might experience trauma as the Interior Department investigates the U.S. Indian Boarding School policy's lasting effects.

Why it matters: Under the policy, Native children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in boarding schools that attempted to strip them of their cultures, practices and identities. Survivors, as well as their descendants, might face a "resurgence of trauma" amid revelations from the probe, lawmakers say.

Details: The lawmakers, led by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Sharice Davids (Kan.), are pushing IHS to consider...

  • Some form of protection for Natives since the Interior's probe is set to reveal troubling details.
  • A "culturally competent" hotline for survivors and families.
  • Other "mental and spiritual supports developed in collaboration with tribal nations."

What they're saying: "The Indian Boarding School era is a stain in America's history, and it is long overdue that we begin to formally investigate the past wrongs and ongoing harms of these policies," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the acting IHS director on Friday.

  • "The legacy of these policies continues to impact Native communities through intergenerational trauma, grief over the loss of children who never returned, cycles of violence and abuse, disappearance, health disparities, substance abuse, premature deaths, despair, and additional undocumented psychological trauma."
  • "[W]e look forward to working together to address the resulting painful intergenerational reverberations in Native communities today," the letter adds.

The big picture: Recent discoveries of Indigenous children's remains in former boarding school sites in Canada have prompted calls for accountability.

  • The policy left a legacy of low self-esteem, alcoholism and high suicide rates among Native communities, even after the last school closed.
  • Investigations would later find documented cases of sexual, manual, physical and mental abuse, many of which killed Native children, per Amnesty International.
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