Published December 21, 2015
SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA — The Lakota People’s Law Project released a report detailing the need for the United States government to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Committee to finally acknowledge the brutal crimes the government has perpetrated against the Native inhabitants of the United States of America, particularly during the boarding school era.
“The history books are awash with the atrocities leveled against the Indigenous peoples of North America since European settlers first arrived on this continent in the 15th century,” said Chase Iron Eyes, attorney for the Lakota People’s Law Project. “Despite this consensus among historians, the United States federal government has never formally acknowledged how its policies directly led to the near eradication of the Native inhabitants of this land. This formal acknowledgement needs to occur. It needs to occur now.”
Indeed, federal policies, such as the establishment of the reservation system, the creation of Indian property law (which divested tribes of their land ownership and made them tenants of their own ancestral territory), and the criminalization of Indian religious ceremonies continue to afflict Native communities today.
Native Americans comprise a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. From a per capita standpoint, they are the most likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement. Seven of the eleven most impoverished counties in the nation are located in Indian Country in South Dakota, and a higher percentage of Native people live in poverty than any other racial group in America—one in four, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nationwide, eleven percent of Native Americans drop out of high school, and only seventeen percent obtain a college degree. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rate of diabetes of any group, according to the American Diabetes Association, and Native youth are three times more likely to kill themselves than any other racial group.
“Native communities are in full crisis mode as a multiplicity of problems that derive from misguided federal policies continue to persist,” said Bryan Brewer, former president of the Oglala Sioux Nation in South Dakota. “Unlike other racial minorities who have generated massive press coverage over the past year, Native people continue to struggle in silence. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would alter that and bring us a step closer to resolving the injustice that we continue to face as a people.”
While the issues confronting Indian country are many, the Truth and Reconciliation Report released by Lakota People’s Law Project focuses on the continued intergenerational trauma created by the boarding school era. The boarding school era refers to a period between the early 19th century and the mid 20th century when the federal government undertook a program of forced assimilation, attempting to rob Natives of their culture, language and heritage.
“The trauma of the boarding school era continues to affect Indians of all ages, as it is passed through the generations,” said Madonna Thunder Hawk, tribal liaison for the Lakota People’s Law Project and prominent activist from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. “In order to move forward in a spirit of cooperation, a full reckoning with the past is necessary.”
The Canadian government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008 to investigate the past abuse and lingering ill effects of Canada’s Indian residential school system, which was modeled on the American boarding school system. The Commission released its report in July concluding “the establishment and operation of residential schools … can best be described as ‘cultural genocide.’”
The report further called upon the Canadian government to acknowledge the documented abuses and begin repairing the relationship between the government and the indigenous tribal communities of Canada.
“The United States must make overtures to Native people similar to those made by Canada,” said Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. “A Truth and Reconciliation Commission would uncover historical injustices committed against our people and shine a light on how this past continues to detrimentally affect us. More than ever, we need an investigation of current American Indian policy, its racist antecedents, and methods to erase the abominable stain of the boarding school era that continues to besmirch the fabric of American society.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project will campaign to bring more allies into the effort to establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“By reaching out to members of the federal government, other nonprofit organizations, and lobbying agencies, LPLP will agitate for the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” Madonna Thunder Hawk said. “Indigenous communities deserve to have a mechanism for redress and healing. In fact, all parties in this traumatic journey need to uncover and process the past.”
The Lakota People’s Law Project has been partnering with tribes and leaders in the State of South Dakota since 2005 from its offices in Rapid City, SD and Santa Cruz, CA. LPLP’s activities have included funding and supporting Native experts to provide technical assistance to the tribes on family and child welfare issues. The project combines public interest law, investigation, research, education and organizing into a unique model for advocacy and social reform.
The Lakota People’s Law Project is sponsored by the nonprofit Romero Institute based in Santa Cruz, CA. The Institute is named after slain human rights advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The Institute seeks to identify and dismantle structural sources of injustice and threats to the survival of our human family.
Further information concerning the Lakota People’s Law Project can be found at LakotaLaw.org.