Reflections on Native Boarding Schools

My featured image shows fall colors at my house.

As one who identifies as Indigenous, the latest findings of Indigenous children’s marked and unmarked graves on the grounds of Native Boarding Schools across Canada and the United States abhors me, which can feed into generational wounds. Lately, I have been invited to offer lectures on the topic. Here I share with you some of my reflections as presented to church groups. Remember, I only speak with my Indigenous relatives. I do not speak for all Indigenous Peoples.

Residential Boarding Schools: We must acknowledge what happened
to the First People of these Lands
at the hands of Colonial Settlers

To all my Relations…

Following in the ways of loving one another, as any faith journey tells us to do, gives us a framework for our way of life. Our works of truth and reconciliation must mirror that. Like baptism, we must face the truths of our past, even when they give us discomfort. When we learn some painful truths, we must reflect on those truths rather than deny, wallow in guilt or point fingers. The painful actions of history belong to all of us… together.  Again, the painful actions of history belong to all of us. I say that as one who is Indigenous to these lands to which I acknowledge: My homeland is the Uncompahgre Valley, Western Colorado, from where colonial settlers displaced my father’s people (Ute). My Mother’s people experienced the same atrocities in their homeland of what is now, New Mexico.  In Kansas, I live and work on the ancestral territory of many Indigenous Nations, including the Kaw, the Osage, and the Pawnee. Kansas is currently home to the Prairie Band Potawatomi, the Kickapoo, the Iowa of Kansas and Nebraska, and the Sac and Fox Nations.  

I am grateful to these Nations. I ask you to Please remember these truths

Bathe in the Beauty of Nature

Today, we take this opportunity, no matter who we are, and no matter from whom we descend, to face the pain of the past, to confess it, and above all, to learn from it and not repeat it. To tell the truth in love, as our Creator teaches, gives us pause to learn love’s excellent way of life and way of being.

What are the ways in which we can behave in actionable ways to follow the path of love rather than hate, rather than ignoring inhumanities, rather than justifying slavery and other exclusions and turning away from the practice of human hierarchies? We must recognize and acknowledge the wounds of Indigenous Peoples promulgated by governments, churches, and other institutions that join in the cause of separation and erasure.  Then we must remove the barriers to access for all historically excluded identities. Only love, honor, and respect can dwell in the Creator’s presence, and we must join our hearts and hands to rebuild our communities of faith. 

Let us move away from mere performance to authentic and measurable actions toward an equitable society where we honor and love one another as the Creator loves us. 

In reflection, what makes me hopeful today are the Indigenous youth who are learning the spiritual teachings and the folkways of our ancestors.  We promote generational healing through prayer and acknowledgement that we only survive in the light and love of our Creator and through the support of one another.  When this society begins to acknowledge the truths that segregation, torture, abuse, and separation of Indigenous children is, by design, meant to erase a people not love them, the healing will begin. 

A Healing Fire

Please note that of the 367 Native boarding schools in the U.S. 73 remain open, and 15 continue to board Indigenous children taken from their parents. Here in Kansas, we must acknowledge the following boarding schools and the atrocities fraught upon Native children: Haskell Indian Training School (now Haskell University), Great Nemaha Indian School, Kaw Manual Labor School, Kickapoo Labor School, Osage Manual Labor School, Potawatomi Labor School, and the Shawnee Mission boarding school. The goals of these schools promised to “take the Indian out of the boy or girl.” Graduation was never a goal, however survival remained a wish for the children.  Again, The children who were able to leave these schools did not graduate!  They survived!

We cannot heal in the places that make us sick. We can only heal, if the society complicit in Indigenous extermination can move away from greed and the concepts of superiority in order to teach a people that they are, indeed, inferior. I am hopeful because I am here today, with each of you, lamenting the wrongs of the past by governments and other institutions who do not follow the teachings of the Creator to “Love one another.”  I ask you,  How is genocide of a people, Love? How are exclusionary laws and policies, Love? How is justifying slavery, love?    

Rev. Linda Nicholls and Rev. Mark Macdonald note that:

“The wrenching legacy of residential schools is felt not only by those who survived. It lingers in the pain of families whose children died while at school. It lingers in the agony of not knowing why they died or where they are buried. It lingers in the inadequate record-keeping that does not tell the cause of death. It lingers in the neglect to even record the names of almost one-third of those who died. For a parent the death of a child is an unimaginable pain.”

I ask you to empathize with the parents. Can you imagine such a thing to happen to you and your family?

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Native Boarding Schools

  1. I tired to comment once so this might repeat…if I remember what I said.
    Basically, I wanted to say that beyond your wise message, I’m again impressed with your writing skills. It’s so direct. From a place of resolve.
    (PS you’d get lots more comments if it were not so hard to get WordPress to accept them. They make you log in.)

    Like

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment! Yes. I wish it was easier for people to read and comment. Imagine what it’d be like if my blog was monetized. There’s no commenting at all. Thank you for reading me.

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  2. I thank you, Debra, for reminding us that spiritual people who believe in the Creator must recoup the spirit of love and negate what the halls of power (government, churches, financial institutions, cultural leaders and so forth) have done to foster hatred toward and extermination of Indigenous families. Thank you, thank you for reminding us what we need to remember and what need to do.

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