An Open Letter to Congress

By Doris Tinsley

Dear 116th Congress,

I am here calling on you to look to Native America’s newest congresswomen, Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) and Deborah Haaland(Laguna Pueblo), as I ask for your help.

Indian Country is not only placing the responsibility on you, but we are demanding you to launch a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), just like the Canadian government has done. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has a mandate to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools, and to inform all Canadians about what happened in the schools. The Commission will document the truth of what happened by relying on records held by those who ran and funded the schools, testimony from officials of the institutions that operated the schools, and experiences reported by survivors, their families, communities, and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience and its subsequent impacts.

On behalf of Indian Country, I am placing this responsibility of beginning this official healing process on you. I am placing the responsibility on you to ethically take testimonies from boarding school survivors so that our stories will never be whitewashed or forgotten. I am placing the responsibility on you, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to conduct a national study focusing on the impacts and effects of your1869 boarding school policy. I am placing the biggest responsibility on you to have Child and Family Service Programs be in the hands of Tribal Nations forTribal Nations.

The potential Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the United States will do everything and more to place an emphasis on the healing of Indian Country. Due to the 1869 “Peace Policy”, known as the IndianBoarding School Policy, thousands of Native children were forced to assimilate because Richard Pratt, the founder of the notorious Carlisle Indian IndustrialSchool, said “kill the Indian, save the man.” This era of horror and violence against our children set a precedence of internal trauma that transformed into intergenerational trauma that has plagued, and will plague, generations. ChaseIron Eyes of Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) states “nearly every challenge we face today is traceable to this intergenerational trauma”; that 1869 policy resulted in the systematic destruction of Native cultures and communities.

Your own Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)admitted that their policies, your policies, of funding more than 600 boarding schools committed acts to purposefully destroy all things Indian against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Kevin Gover, the former Assistant Secretary ofIndian Affairs, declared that a process of healing must be instituted to allow healing of the past.

TheUnited States government has a historic responsibility to the Native communities. You are supposed to uphold a trust responsibility. Advocacy for trust responsibility is a legally enforceable fiduciary obligation on your part to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources, as well asa duty to carry out federal laws with respect to Native American Tribes andNations. The Supreme Court has mentioned that trust responsibility entails legal duties, moral obligations, and the fulfillment of understandings and expectations that have arisen over the entire course of relationship between the U.S. and federally recognized tribes. As stated in the Seminole Nation v. United States in 1942, the US, you, “has charged itself with moral obligations of the highest responsibility” towards Tribes. You.

Allow this open letter to encourage further action in the favor of Native communities and peoples across the United Nations.

Thank you,

A victim of intergenerational residential and boarding school trauma