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Sen. Schatz speaks with Indigenous leaders amid report on federal boarding schools

U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair Brian Schatz held a hearing Wednesday on the next steps following the U.S. Interior Department’s report on Indian boarding schools.

The report released in May confirmed that forced assimilation of Indigenous children was U.S. policy at over 400 known federal schools dating back to 1819.

This includes seven schools in Hawaiʻi: Hilo Boarding School, Industrial and Reformatory Schools, Industrial and Reformatory Schools for Girls, Kamehameha Schools, Lahainaluna Seminary, Mauna Loa Forestry Camp School and Molokai Forestry Camp School.

Schatz says members of the committee plan to establish a truth and reconciliation commission to address U.S. Indian boarding school policies.

He invited leaders from the Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities to the hearing to understand what they see as the path forward.

Norma Ryūkō Kawelokū Wong Roshi oversaw Native Hawaiian policy for former Gov. John Waiheʻe. Roshi testified that reconciliation needs to be done carefully — or it could retraumatize these communities.

"So, you can’t settle for the usual. The public hearing that would have certain testimonies and that would have people that would have a time limit, and things of that sort — that cannot be where all of the focus happens to be," Roshi said.

"Every person and descendant needs a way to be seen or heard. Resources will be needed for grieving and therapeutic healing and gatherings. The energy of what’s happened in these spaces and places needs tending to if repair is to be had. Ritual, ceremony, repurposing, that is the Indigenous way," Roshi testified.

Other Native leaders advised lawmakers that the commission should be given subpoena power. They also say that members should be chosen locally or regionally — not by the federal government.

"While we cannot change that history, I believe that our nation will benefit from a full understanding of the truth of what took place and a focus on healing the wounds of the past," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said.