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US churches to reflect on their traumatic legacy in native schools: 'Unspeakable, cruel abuse'

U.S. Catholic and Protestant denominations operated more than 150 boarding schools between the 19th and 20th centuries.

US churches to reflect on their traumatic legacy in native schools: 'Unspeakable, cruel abuse'
circa 1955: A group of Native American Shosone children queue for vaccinations at the Wind River Agency, Fort Wakashe, Wyoming. (Photo by Evans/Three Lions/Getty Images)

There is a renewed call in the United States to acknowledge the horrific legacy of former residential schools for Indigenous children in the country. This follows the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada. Many such schools were operated by the U.S. Catholic and Protestant churches and many advocates believe churches need to acknowledge their role in the trauma inflicted on the Indigenous community in the name of faith, reported The Huffington Post. Some former students at these schools have spoken up about the “unspeakable, cruel abuse” they endured including physical and sexual assault, malnourishment. They were also punished for speaking their native language.



 

 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary, announced earlier that her department would investigate “the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools.” She added that the investigation would seek to identify schools and their burial sites. In America, Native American and Alaskan Native children were forcibly taken away from their tribal families and abandon their customs, language, and religion amounting to cultural genocide. According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, U.S. religious groups were involved in at least 156 residential schools for Indigenous children. The coalition had been created in 2012 to raise awareness about the legacy of the schools and address the traumas associated with it. Samuel Torres, director of research and programs for the coalition, said apologies alone wouldn't suffice. "There is a lot more to be done,” said Torres, before adding, "Without that truth, then there’s really very limited possibilities of healing."



 

 

The schools, operated by the Church, sought to assimilate and Christianize them. U.S. Catholic and Protestant denominations operated more than 150 boarding schools between the 19th and 20th centuries. “We all need to work together on this,” said Reverend Bradley Hauff, a Minnesota-based Episcopal priest, and missioner for Indigenous Ministries with the Episcopal Church. “What’s happening in Canada, that’s a wakeup call to us,” said Hauff, who is enrolled with the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

circa 1910: A elderly woman of a Native American tribe, with a young child. (Photo by General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

 

There have also been calls to help former students at these Indigenous children and their relatives to tell their stories of family trauma. “We cannot even begin to imagine the deep sorrow these discoveries are causing in Native communities across North America,” said Chieko Noguchi, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16: U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies during a hearing to examine the departments proposed budget for the fiscal year 2022 on Capitol Hill on June 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. The new budget proposal from the Biden Administration would see a 16% increase, from $17.4 billion to $2.4 billion for the Department of the Interior. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

 

The discovery of unmarked graves and practices in former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada has only confirmed a 2015 government commission's assessment that the forced assimilation of indigenous children was nothing but cultural genocide. Similar residential schools in America have gone under the radar when compared to Canada and advocates are calling on Churches to acknowledge their role involvement with such boarding schools. 



 

 

Top officials with the U.S. Episcopal Church have called for the denomination’s next legislative session in 2022 to set aside funds for independent research into church archives and to educate church members. “We have heard with sorrow stories of how this history has harmed the families of many Indigenous Episcopalians,” read a July 12 statement from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, president of the denomination’s House of Deputies. “We must come to a full understanding of the legacies of these schools,” they added, calling for the denomination’s next legislative session in 2022 to earmark funds for independent research into church archives and to educate church members. Some churches have apologized and conducted archival investigations in recent years but advocates are calling on them to open their archives to the public and educate them on what went on inside the former residential schools.

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