The National Indian Health Board is a dedicated advocate in Congress on behalf of all Tribal Governments and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Each weekly issue contains a listing of current events on Capitol Hill, information on passed and upcoming legislation, Indian health policy analysis, and action items. To view all of our legislative resources, please visit
June 28, 2022
News From Capitol Hill
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Heard from Tribal Leaders and Experts on Federal Indian Boarding School Policies

Last week, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, led by Chairman Brian Schatz (D-HI), held a legislative and oversight hearing to hear from the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) leadership, Native leaders, and Native experts on the Interior's first report and S. 2907

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland released the first volume report of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in May. Secretary Haaland announced the introduction of The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative of June last year.

The report for the first time acknowledged the federal governments direct involvement of cultural assimilation policies in Indian boarding schools. The report found the federal government, between 1819 and 1969, operated or support 408 boarding schools across 37 states, including 21 in Alaska and seven in Hawai’i. 

The witnesses included The Honorable Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, DOI; The Honorable Kirk Francis, Chief, Penobscot Indian Nation; Ms. Sandra White Hawk, President, National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition; Ms. Norma Ryūkō Kawelokū Wong Roshi, Native Hawaiian Policy Lead, Office of former Hawai‘i Governor John Waihe‘e; and Ms. La Quen Náay Liz Medicine Crow, President/CEO, First Alaskans Institute.

In his opening statement, Chairman Schatz acknowledged the federal Indian boarding schools was a "dark period in [the] nation's history" of forced Western assimilation of Native children. Vice Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) further added in her opening statement that within those schools Native children faced malnutrition, solitary confinement, forced manual labor, untreated diseases, and too many unreported deaths and disappearances.  
Sponsoring S. 2907 Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding Schools, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) explained this bill would establish a commission to formally investigate federal Indian boarding school policies. It would most importantly address the gap in which the federal government provided no forum or mechanism for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) families and survivors to share their experiences. Senator Warren acknowledged that between 1819 and 1969, policies formally removed children from their Tribal lands and their families and placed them in over 400 boarding schools. It has been estimated that by 1926, nearly 83 percent of AI/AN children were in one of the currently known Indian boarding schools. 
Secretary Haaland, who was first to testify, noted S. 2907 is complimentary with the Interior's work on the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative and supported the bill as is. Pointing to the change in structure within the Commission, Assistant Secretary Newland would want to see the Bureau of Trust Funds Administration and National Archives included in the Commission due to their recordkeeping function and have "million of pages" in federal records. Both of the organizations were integral to putting together the first volume of the Report.  
Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) noting the deep harm federal Indian boarding schools caused asked Secretary Haaland to comment how the initiative was holistic in its work. The initiative, reported Secretary Haaland, is using an 'all of government' approach to address the needs of Indian Country. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is providing trauma-related support and the Interior is working on language revitalization. Partnering with the American Indian Records Repository, Haaland noted its integral support to the initiative in ensuring the Interior is not leaving anything out. The bottom line, added Haaland, is the trust responsibility the federal government has in fulfilling health care, education, economic development, and housing in which the past administrations did not "understand" this obligation towards Tribal nations and feels confident this administration using an 'all of government' approach will uphold trust responsibility.  
Assistant Secretary Newland, in response to Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV), clarified the power of the subpoena statue in S. 2907 is broader in its scope than the Interior's work. Seeking sealed information and records, the Commission with a subpoena power would be able to access state, local, and private information from federal and nonfederal entities. Complimenting the work, the President's Budget Request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 requested $7 million in the budget for continuing the Interior's work.  
Kirk Francis, Chief of the Penobscot Nation, who worked on the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission offered changes to S. 2907 based on his previous experience with commissions investigating federal Indian boarding schools. One of those changes would be expanding and redefining the criteria for identifying federal Indian boarding schools. The bill seems to only include schools that were directly operated by the federal government or churches versus schools that meet the four criteria used by Interior. The members of the Commission are all appointed by the federal government, which will likely minimize trust in the Commission's work. 
Elaborating on Francis's point, La Quen noted the Interior's criteria was also very limited in which the true number of boarding schools is not known. Vice Chair Murkowski believes the number of boarding schools, whether religious or federally operated, in Alaska is "quite low"; the report found 21 boarding schools operated in Alaska.  
When it comes to language revitalization, Senator Ben Lujan (D-NM) noted the stark difference in investing in boarding schools versus investing in language revitalization that they "tried so hard to eradicate". For example, Lujan pointed out the federal government has invested less than $400 million in language revitalization programs but the true number of dollars spent on federal boarding schools is unknown. Thus, asking the witnesses if Congress should make "bold" investments into language revitalization in which all witnesses affirmed Congress should make those investments.  
Adjourning the hearing, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) last asked what are the next steps following the release of the first volume of the report. Ms. Sandra of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition stated the next steps are unknown until they hear more communities speak on their experiences.  

To watch the recorded hearing click here. To learn more about National Indian Health Board's past efforts on Federal Indian boarding schools see here.
Meet Your Member
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Senator Warren is a senior Senator serving her second term in the U.S. Senate. She serves as the Senator to two federally recognized Tribes in Massachusetts - the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Reversing the Trump Administration's attempt to strip the Mashpee Wampanoag's homelands and federal recognition, Senator Warren worked with the Tribe and Massachusetts congressional leadership on this issue to reverse this decision. When the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) notified the Tribe its reservation has been confirmed in 2021, Senator Warren congratulated the Tribe and disavowed the "unjustly disestablish[ed]" decision by the Trump Administration.

Senator Warren's top issue areas include financial regulation and income equity, big tax increases on corporations, universal healthcare and education, and climate change. Warren sits on the Armed Services Committee, Banking Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, Finance Committee, and the Special Committee on Aging.

Indian Healthcare Legislation
Sponsoring the Tribal Medical Supplies Stockpile Access Act, Senator Warren introduced the bill in January. This bill would directly increase access to the Strategic National Stockpile for health programs or facilities operated by the Indian Health Service (IHS) Tribes, or Tribal organizations for the purpose of stronger responses to public health emergencies. Specifically, if Health and Human Services (HHS) distributes pandemic or epidemic products (e.g., drugs or medical devices) to states or other entities, HHS must also deploy such products directly to health programs or facilities operated by IHS or other Tribal entities.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and House Native American Caucus Co-Chairs Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies Act H.R 5444 / S. 2907. These bills would establish a commission to investigate and document the detrimental Indian boarding school policies and historical trauma resulting from those policies and to make recommendations, among others, for federal resources and assistance to aid in healing from that trauma. For more information, see the above article on the Indian Affairs Committee's previous hearing on S. 2907.

Senator Warren cosponsored the Tribal Health Data Improvement Act and the Native Behavioral Health Access Improvement Act. Both bills are intended to elevate American Indian and Alaska Native healthcare. The Tribal Health Data bill would improve Tribal access to important public health data and information. It also reauthorizes through Fiscal Year (FY) 2026 the National Center for Health Statistics in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Department of Health and Human Services must (1) establish a strategy for providing data access to Indian Tribes and Tribal epidemiology centers; and (2) make available all requested data related to health care and public health surveillance programs and activities to the IHS, Tribes, Tribal organizations, and Tribal epidemiology centers. The Native Behavioral Health bill would provide important base funding for Tribal communities to address behavioral health issues.

Supporting financial stability for IHS, Warren cosponsored the Indian Programs Advance Appropriations Act. This bill would provide advance appropriations for IHS which would shield the agency from budget uncertainty due to continuing resolutions, government shutdowns, and the appropriations processes.
Other News and Events
NIHB and NCAI Push for Indian Health Care Funding and Advance Appropriations

The National Indian Health Board and the National Congress of American Indians join forces to elevate Tribal leader voices to Capitol Hill on securing Advance Appropriations for the Indian Health Service (IHS). This action alert is for the House Appropriations Committee: we ask the committee to support and include IHS advance appropriations in the current appropriations bill. Advance appropriations would help shield IHS and Tribal health systems from the harmful impacts of continuing resolutions and government shutdowns. Support and passage of advance appropriations in the next appropriations cycle would begin the necessary process for establishing budget certainty and help improve the health care delivery system for Tribal nations and their citizens. It is a meaningful step in fulfilling the United States trust responsibility and treaty obligations to Tribal nations for Indian health care. 

NIHB passed Resolution 14-03 to support advanced appropriations for IHS and NCAI passed Resolution 19-001 to support advanced appropriations for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and IHS.

Tribal leaders are encouraged to call, e-mail, and send letters to Members of Congress including the House Committee on Appropriations and House Subcommittee on Interior Environment, and Related Agencies, Senate Committee on Appropriations and Senate Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and representatives from their state or district. NIHB and NCAI have prepared scripts and templates that can be downloaded:

For questions, please contact Aaron Payment, EdD, Director of Government Relations at
Early Bird Register Now Open for the National Tribal Health Conference and 50th Anniversary Celebration

Join the National Indian Health Board (NIHB) as we take a look back at the history of NIHB and build our plans for the next 50 years. Together we will explore the topics of health equity, health policy, Tribal advances in health, and many more. The National Tribal Health Conference (NTHC) serves as a forum to discuss policy and political work in the arenas of Tribal health care, public, behavioral, and environmental health. Tribal leaders, Tribal health directors, administrators, policy analysts, advocates, and Native youth and early career professionals are invited to join.

The event will be held in Washington, DC at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill from September 25-29, 2022.

Conference events will include Tribal Listening and Consultation Sessions with federal agencies, no-cost institutes, plenary sessions, breakout sessions, an exhibit hall and marketplace, fitness activities, and cultural events. Special events will be held for Native youth and early career professionals as well as new Tribal leaders. The Annual Heroes in Health Awards Gala and 50th Anniversary Celebration will be held on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

Learn more and register here.