Truth and Healing – Living Lutheran
Bethany Indian Mission in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, circa 1953. Operating from 1883 to 1955, Bethany Indian Mission was founded by the Norwegian Lutheran Church, a predecessor of the ELCA, and was included on a list of federal Indian boarding schools which was published by the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative of the US Department of the Interior.
As part of the church’s efforts toward reconciliation with Native Americans, an ELCA truth-seeking and truth-telling initiative was organized around Lutheran involvement in Indian boarding schools in the United States.
In May, the U.S. Department of the Interior released the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative Investigation Report, detailing more than 400 federal Indian residential schools that operated between 1819 and 1969. The report further states that the U.S. government received support from religious institutions for the Federal Government of India. boarding school system and sometimes paid them to run the schools.
“There is no doubt that our church, that Christians in the United States, are complicit in the gross perpetration of Indian residential schools and all the genocidal effects they have had on Indigenous peoples and tribal nations over time. and still today,” said Vance Blackfox, ELCA. Director of Native Ministries and Tribal Relations. “Unfortunately, such a small percentage of the American population even knows that the residential school era took place or lasted nearly 150 years. It is important that ELCA members no longer remain in this ignorance. so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous healing can occur.
The ELCA previously declared its complicity in the operation of Indian boarding schools in the United States when it issued “A Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the American Indians and Alaska Natives” on 11 October 2021 – Indigenous Peoples Day. The statement included confessions and promises to Native American and Alaska Native communities in the ELCA and to the United States and to non-Native communities in the ELCA.
Among the pledges included in the statement, the ELCA pledged to learn more about the Church’s role in the “indoctrination and forced assimilation of Indigenous children in residential schools” and to support “healing residential school survivors.
“The work is urgent”
The initiative marks ELCA’s first organized effort to seek out the church’s ties to schools and their support. At the time of going to press, 15 synods had been selected to initiate this work, open to all registrants and lay people and calling in particular on skills in research, data collection and community organization. Participants will strive to identify primary and secondary sources of information about Lutheran involvement in schools.
“It is important that ELCA members no longer remain in this ignorance so that healing for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can take place.
“We want people across the denomination—initially in 15 synods—to encounter truths for themselves, set foot on a path of very concrete truth and healing effort, and become a framework for speaking the truth to others. Lutherans in their lives, congregations, synods and families,” said Elizabeth Andress, co-lead of the initiative with Blackfox. “This approach allows us to start now, without waiting for some sort of budget appropriation or other measure to first steps, because the work is urgent.The organizing effort is to bring people concerned about the legacy of Indian boarding schools into relationship with each other for mutual learning, support and collaboration.
In a related effort, ELCA advocacy encourages members to urge Congress to pass the Truth and Healing Commission Act on Indian Residential Schools Policies. The law would provide for a formal investigation into residential school policies and their lasting effects. If the legislation becomes law soon, Blackfox said, the commission will likely seek records from religious organizations. The ELCA will want to share as much research as possible for the benefit of school survivors, their descendants and tribal nations, he added.
Blackfox and Andress stress that the research conducted under the new initiative is vital because understanding the extent of church involvement in schools is necessary for authentic healing.
“When I learned about the church’s involvement in Indian boarding schools and their devastating impact on children, their decimation of culture and how much of the breakdown that white culture perceives in Indian communities is tied to the experience of these schools, I knew I wanted [and] had to be involved somehow,” Andress said.
Blackfox added, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had enough clergy and laity involved in this particular work that it would create a movement in our church, strong enough for the 3 million plus members to know the Truth About Indian Boarding Schools So That Healing and Justice Happened? What a witness that would be.
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