Churches are holding a Day of Truth and Repentance today to recognize their role in cultural genocide | Opinion
By Reverend Victoria A. Rebeck
First Nations Pennsylvanians still bear the scars of their ancestors from the physical, emotional and cultural abuse they endured in residential schools established in the late 19th century. Churches, which bear the shame of having run many of these schools, celebrate a Day of Truth and Repentance on October 6 to recognize their role in the cultural genocide.
This date recognizes the 142nd anniversary of the founding of the Carlisle Industrial School, the first such school founded by the US government. According to Associated Press.
These schools were designed to “assimilate” Native American children. Their languages, cultures, names and religions have sometimes been literally beaten to them. In the case of schools run by the church, children were forced to adopt Christian practices.
Students have experienced physical, sexual, cultural and spiritual abuse and neglect, says the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. For speaking their mother tongue, the children were punished, sometimes to the point of torture. Many children have never seen their homes again, and not all the missing were counted.
Elsie, a Yakima woman forced into one of these schools, recounted interview Denise Lajimodière, “I was four years old when I was robbed and taken to Chemawa, Oregon. The matron grabbed me and my sister, undressed us and put us in a trough and cleaned our genitals with laundry soap, shouting at us that we were “dirty savages, dirty”. I had to tiptoe around screaming in pain.
Residential schools also served as a strategy to subdue Native American tribes. Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, who promoted the establishment of the Carlisle School, recruited students from the Sioux Oglala and Sioux Brule, essentially holding these children hostage in an attempt to gain tribal cooperation with the government. American.
Schools damaged Native American nations at the individual, family and community levels. The children lost their identity, suffered from low self-esteem, felt no sense of security, and found it difficult to form healthy relationships. Parents lost their rights and power to care for and guide their children, and the extended family system was almost completely destroyed.
Communities have been severely weakened as their languages and tribal traditions have been lost for a number of generations. In turn, the structure of tribal nations began to crumble and fewer people were enrolled.
These schools betray the values the church found in their own scriptures. From the Hebrew Bible to the Gospels and Epistles, believers learn to welcome and serve their neighbors with kindness. The needs of children, widows, the poor and other neglected people had to come before the interests of the rich and powerful.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God identifies it as the highest religious practice: “Is not the fast that I choose: to loosen the bonds of injustice, to undo the bonds of the yoke, to free the oppressed and break all yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the poor homeless into your house; when you see the nudes, to cover them up, and not to hide from your own parents? (Isaiah 58: 5-6)
Jesus taught his disciples to serve others humbly, not to destroy them with abusive and arrogant power: “For all that exalt themselves will be humbled, and those that humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11) .
At the request of the United Methodist Native American International Caucus, United Methodist Bishops urge churches to take these steps:
- Learn more about the violence committed by these boarding schools
- On October 6, wear the color orange in solidarity with others who stand up for the truth and fight against violence
- Hold prayer circles and sacred gatherings to remember our children and invite others to join
- Advocate for federal, state and local government officials and religious leaders to investigate and bring the truth to light on the massacre of Native American children, peoples and culture, especially in the context of boarding schools
- Call for the return of the remains of deceased children to schools in their family homeland
- Talk about the trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation in First Nations communities
- Persevere in governmental, ecclesiastical and private organization institutions responsible for restitution
The Presbyterian, Quaker and Episcopal churches are taking similar steps.
While the horrors of residential schools are remembered for a day, let churches commit to repentance and restitution until Indigenous peoples and cultures receive the honor and respect they deserve as Americans.
Reverend Victoria Rebeck is a United Methodist clergyman and director of connectional ministries for the United Methodist Church’s annual Susquehanna Conference in Mechanicsburg.