Truth & Healing, and Indian Boarding Schools

Those in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America might be aware that the Church has just launched a new movement, the “Truth and Healing Movement,” which intends to support the work of the ELCA to explore the “true history and current realities of Indigenous people.” Find more about it here:

Included in this movement is a study of the terrible history of Indian Boarding Schools, and if/where/how Lutheran congregations and individual participated and supported these schools. This is something every person in the United States should know. The picture at the top of the blog shows the location [and the affiliation] of the boarding schools in the US and Canada.

In the May 2023 issue of National Geographic, there was a very informative story on this history, including interviews from just a few of the Indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their families and placed in missions and boarding schools. The pictures in the story [a few of which I am sharing below] were taken by Daniella Zalcman; they are “double exposure portraits,” which overlay images of these survivors with sites and memories connected to their experiences of trauma and loss.

This program was, of course, horrific: the creation of government-run boarding schools began in 1879, with the Carlisle Indian industrial school. The motto of the founder, Richard Pratt, was, “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” This motto justified decades and decades of unspeakable abuse, including exploitation, physiological and physical torture, rape, and cultural genocide. The boarding school program didn’t end until 1969.

If you don’t know much about this ugly part of United States history, I encourage you to learn more. 

The article ends with this quote by Patricia Whitefoot, a retired educator with a decades-long career in Native education. She says: “I feel that we are at a point of reckoning with not only boarding schools, but all of the intersections of our own humanity as Native people. And this work has to be done in a very compassionate way that is holistic and collective, where we’re all working toward the same goal of truth, justice, and healing of our people.”  Learning more about this history, and working against the current practices and policies that are modern-day continuations of it, is one way to participate in this work of truth, justice, and healing.

The pictures are stunning, and powerful–I wanted to share a few of them, so these are just my own photographs of the magazine pages; they are worth seeking out to see them in higher quality.

Esther Nuqaq’aq Green, Yup’ik; forcibly taken to the Nunapitsinghak Moravian Children’s Home, Alaska
Dawn Neptune Adams, Penobscot; forcibly taken to foster care in Maine
Wanda Garnier, Lakota; forcibly sent to Holy Rosary Mission, South Dakota
George Johnson, Yup’ik; forcibly sent to Wrangell Institute, Alaska and the Chemawa Indian Training School, Oregon

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