Seattle council backs investigation of Indigenous human rights violations

Aug 18, 2021, 11:05 AM | Updated: 11:38 am
Truth and Healing Commission...
1950: North American Indian children in their dormitory at a Canadian boarding school. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Seattle City Council approved a resolution this week supporting the U.S. Department of Interior’s Boarding School Initiative and the Truth and Healing Commission.

The legislation was sponsored by Councilmember Debora Juarez, Chair of the Council’s Public Assets and Native Communities Committee.

Legal group backs US review of Indigenous boarding schools

The federal legislation, introduced in September 2020 and sponsored by Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM-1), would create a commission designed to investigate “cultural genocide, assimilation practices, and human rights violations of Indian boarding schools in the United States.” It would also study the intergenerational trauma brought on by these violations, and provide a forum for its victims to discuss its legacy and impact on Tribal communities.

“Our federal government must acknowledge this history so we can begin the healing process for families torn apart and for the children who were stolen,” Juarez said. “We must uncover the truth so we can bring the children back home and families can finally have closure.”

The Truth and Healing Commission is a response to the 1819 Civilization Fund Act. This federal policy established boarding schools for Native American children with the intention of “introducing among them the habits and arts of civilization.” The legislation led to the forced removal of Native American children from their communities and homes for their assimilation into non-Native American culture.

Uncovering boarding school history makes for monumental task

“The law [caused] cultural genocide and physical and emotional abuse of Native children. It was protected under federal law,” Juarez declared during the session. “It established boarding schools for the sole purpose of forcibly removing American and Alaskan Native children from their families to assimilate in white settlement.”

Native American boarding schools, 367 in total of which 73 remain open today, were the nexus for that assimilation. Capt. Richard H. Pratt, the founder of the first federal off-reservation boarding school, Carlisle Indian School, made the intention of this education explicit with his motto “Kill the Indian, and save the man.” The assimilation was a brutal process, and led to physical and emotional abuse.

“The world reacted in horror when a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children were found in Canada at a former Indian boarding school – but this is a shared trauma Indigenous families know too well,” Councilmember Juarez said. “The commission will investigate boarding schools across the country, and will address intergenerational trauma that the forced removal has had on indigenous families to this day.”

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Seattle council backs investigation of Indigenous human rights violations