American Church Must Heed Her Residential School Legacy

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(RNS) – In recent weeks, devastating news has arrived from Canada: Residential schools, also known as residential schools, often run by churches, have been investigated, and the remains of hundreds Native children were unearthed in the treat. The most recent find, of 751 bodies in unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school, reveals the continuing legacy of settler colonialism.

As the Canadian government and churches in Canada attempt to respond to this, First Nations peoples demand that Canada come to terms with its history of genocide and colonization. As we watch and mourn our loved ones, America itself continues to count with its own history.

Earlier this week, Home Secretary Deb Haaland announced a new initiative to investigate residential schools here in the United States that will reveal a part of our history that we rarely talk about in schools, government or churches.

But that only scratches the surface of the ways the truth is to be told in America. Like Canada, we also have a legacy of ongoing colonization and genocide, and this needs to be addressed.


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Last month, Republican political commentator and former Senator Rick Santorum shared his thoughts on the origins of this nation, saying, “We created a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yeah, we have Native Americans, but frankly there isn’t a lot of Native American culture in American culture. Indigenous journalists, writers and activists demanded the removal of Santorum from CNN, which ultimately happened as a result of these relentless efforts.

Conversations about the truth have taken place before – as if to correct this all too common conception of America as an empty landscape that has been filled with courageous and pure settlers – but to recognize this particular story will take effort, time. and sensitivity.

“Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovery of God” by Kaitlin B. Curtice. Courtesy Image

And too often when this conversation surfaces it is directed against the government and the harm done by those in power, when time and again we have missed the role the church plays in colonizing Indigenous peoples. , including through residential schools.

I share about residential schools in my book, “Native: Identity, belonging and rediscovery of God ”:

The government and the church have come together to make schoolchildren both more westernized and more “Christian,” for America itself was built on the premise of a colonizing Christian empire. One of the most essential ways to “kill the Indian” was to deprive children of their language, thus destroying a lifeline for their culture. … In the days, months and years that followed, teachers indoctrinated children with white culture, with ideas of Christian salvation, and with the most important white supremacist idea of ​​all: that who they were and who they were. ‘where they came from was an abomination that must be put to death for good.

In his new book, “The earth is not empty, ” Author Sarah Augustine writes: Residential schools were created to Christianize and assimilate Indigenous children, who were forcibly removed from the care of their parents and institutionalized in schools where disease, malnutrition, neglect, abuse and the abuses were rampant.

The American Church must take into account its history of complicity in the treatment of Indigenous peoples – and the In progress colonization Indigenous peoples continue to cope today through missionary quests, ideas of personal salvation and forced assimilation. Colonization was not just a moment in time, but a cycle that keeps repeating itself, especially when the truth is hidden in the shadows.

I wrote about the legacy of missionary work for RNS in an article titled “Missions: Is It Love Or Colonization?” In the article, I wrote, “We can take a quick look at the history of America and see why a grassroots group would oppose foreigners who come in Jesus’ name. Missionaries and colonizers often worked hand in hand, leading to genocide, colonization and assimilation in the name of Jesus. Just as Augustine writes in his book, the Doctrine of Discovery laid the foundation for white supremacy to build this nation that we now call America, and for America to fulfill its destiny, Indigenous peoples had to be annihilated or assimilated.


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Thus, the church must prepare for a difficult and long-needed conversation regarding the treatment of indigenous peoples in the past. and gift. As an author and speaker, I have been in the physical and virtual sanctuaries of many churches and have met pastors and Christian leaders who are leading conversations about who America really is. I am often asked how the church can enter into the work of reconciliation, and my answer is this: Reconciliation is not possible. Not immediately.

I do not see reconciliation on the near horizon when, in our schools, churches and political spaces, we do not speak about the horrific realities of our nation’s history. What I fear most is that Christian leaders, churches, and institutions will engage in performative acts of gratitude or even mourning, but revert to the status quo of covering up the truth once the news is over.

I’m concerned that just as we’ve seen people exhaust their anti-racist work after buying new books they haven’t read and continuing to advocate for white supremacy, people are buying books from native authors like me without s ” engage in the work of listening and make the changes necessary to have these conversations. The church has a responsibility to speak the truth, and it’s going to be a long process. If we go into this process, it’s going to take a lot of time and energy.

The truth is, I’m not sure the United States government or the American church cares enough about Native children, Native Elders, or Native ancestors – or our trauma – to really speak the truth and take action. for those difficult conversations. But I hope that at some point there will be people within these institutions who will start speaking out so that we don’t have to. The work of true solidarity, the practice of true kinship, will lead us to communities having these conversations, and one day, I hope, to the American church asking who they have been and who they want to be.

Kaitlin Curtice, Native American author, speaker and cult leader.  Photo by Amy Paulson Photography

Kaitlin Curtice. Photo by Amy Paulson Photography

As I write in “Native, ” “Indigenous bodies are bodies that remember. We cannot just erase the trauma suffered by so many of our ancestors, trauma that has been passed down to us. But nothing can be healed until we collectively name the wounds we face as a nation. I hope we can start naming these injuries.

(Kaitlin Curtice is a Potawatomi author and speaker. She is the author of “Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God”. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)


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