A new Interior Department report on the legacy of boarding schools for Native Americans outlines how the U.S. government collaborated with churches as part of a project to separate them from their culture, their identity, and ultimately their land. I Christianized them.
The role of churches is a secondary part of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative investigative report, released on Wednesday after a year-long review of hundreds of potential graves discovered in Canada’s former residential schools in 2021. Much of this focuses on the government’s responsibility for the actions and policies of its own officials.
But it does detail how the government provided funding and other aid to religious boarding schools for Native children in the 19th and 20th centuries to the extent that it would have been generally prohibited under rules on separation between church and state. Churches also had clout with the government, it says, and were able to recommend people for appointments to federal positions on substantive matters.
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While this church-state collaboration is well known to experts in the field and was the subject of federal reports in previous generations, the latest brings it to a wider audience at a time when many Americans are just starting to learn about boarding schools. are.
The Interior Department report, citing a 1969 Senate inquiry, acknowledged that “Federal policy toward Indians was based on a desire to oust them from their lands. Education policy was a function of our land policy.”
A major part of this was training Native Americans in occupations that were less land-intensive – though often unsuitable for the jobs available – in addition to severing tribal ties.
Christian conversion was also important, with the report stating that the commissioner’s document of Indian Affairs of 1886 degraded the original spiritual traditions and said that the government should provide “encouragement and cooperation” to the missionaries.
The commissioner wrote at the time, “Government aid enables them to maintain their mission, and makes it possible … to lead these people, whose idolatry is the main obstacle to their civilization in the light of Christianity.” has been.”
This week’s report also said that the government funded schools as land compensation from money held in trusts for tribes. A 1908 Supreme Court decision held that “the ban on the federal government from spending money on religious schools does not apply to the Indian Treaty Fund,” it notes.
And it cites a 1969 Senate inquiry as saying that the US military “was frequently called upon to reinforce the orders of missionaries” in the 19th century.
The report identified 408 boarding schools for Indigenous children in 37 states and former territories that were either government-run or supported between 1819 and 1969. Although it does not state how many churches operated, an earlier report by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition found that over 150 were Catholic and nearly half were by Protestant groups.
At a congressional hearing on Thursday on a bill that would authorize a Truth and Remedy Commission to investigate boarding schools, based on a similar one in Canada, witness Matthew Warr Bonnet told St. Francis Boarding School in the South. Witnessed about his childhood experience. Dakota. The priests running the facility tried to distance her from her parents and culture, and sometimes abused her.
“The boarding schools were sanctioned by the United States government,” said War Bonnet, 76, a Sikangu Lakota from Rosebud Sioux Reservation. “The government gave our lands to the churches to Christianize us, to modernize us and to civilize us. But the churches treated us unfairly. …the government and the churches should be held accountable.”
The Rev. Bradley Hoff, the Episcopal Church’s missionary for Indigenous Ministries, which is a Lakota and a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, said faith groups should confront their history of collaboration in schools.
“As much as we in the church do not want to admit this, it is the truth, and we have to accept and believe it. We worked hand in hand with the government in the process of assimilation,” he said. Otherwise all Christian denominations in America at the end of the 19th century operated at least one indigenous boarding school.”
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At its general convention in July, the Episcopal Church plans to vote on examining its role with schools and accepting their responsibility for causing trauma to generations of Native Americans.
Maka Black Elk, executive director of Truth and Healing at the Red Cloud Indian School, founded in 1888 by Jesuits in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agreed that faith groups should be in sync with their past. Lakota staffing, language, and ritual are at the heart of the modern Red Cloud School, which serves Christians as well as adherents of native spiritual traditions.
“While today we recognize that there are many natives who identify as Christian … and value that part of their identity, we have to engage deeply with that history,” he said.
Any evangelism “must be rooted in the agency of the people and (to be) nonviolent,” said Black Elk, who is Ogla Lakota. “It’s a big part of our discussion today. It’s a broader question, not just for us, but for the Catholic Church at large.”
In April, Pope Francis apologized to Canada’s indigenous delegations at the Vatican for operating schools “for the reprehensible conduct of members of the Catholic Church” where many children were abused and died of illness and other causes. Went. Francis plans to apologize again on Canadian soil in July.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation, a lobby affiliated with the Quaker movement that runs several boarding schools, said in a statement that this week’s internal report must have Congressional approval of the Truth and Remedy Commission.
“Furthermore, we call upon the Aastha community at large to share the records and accounts of their administration of these schools,” the committee said. “It is only through complete honesty and transparency that we can begin to move towards a more just future.”