The Episcopal Church will study its role in federal Indian boarding schools

The Episcopal Church will establish a commission of inquiry to investigate its role in the federal residential school system that separated generations of Indigenous children from their families and cultures in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Bishops and deputies at the main denomination’s general convention approved a resolution to tell the truth about the Episcopal Church’s history with Native boarding schools last weekend in Baltimore.

The resolution encourages the Episcopal Church to hire one or more research fellows to work with dioceses where boarding schools for Indigenous children were located and to share records with Indigenous Ministries of the Episcopal Church and the National Native American Boarding School Healing. Coalition.

It also asks Episcopal Church archivists to create educational resources about schools and encourages dioceses where boarding schools were located to gather information from survivors and their descendants about their experiences.

The House of Representatives, which along with the House of Bishops oversees the church, also elected a native clergyman, the Reverend Rachel Taber-Hamilton, as vice president. A member of the Shackan First Nation and a priest in the Diocese of Olympia, Taber-Hamilton is the first ordained woman and only the third woman to hold the position, according to Episcopal News Service.

She was elected alongside new president Julia Ayala Harris, a Latina laywoman from the Diocese of Oklahoma. Their election marks the first time that two women and two people of color will lead the house.

The actions come as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launches a nationwide listening tour in which she will hear from survivors of Indian residential schools in the United States. His department recently released the first volume of an investigative report into the federal residential school system.

At the end of this month, Pope Francis will travel to Canada to apologize to survivors of similar residential schools there. The pontiff received representatives of Canadian indigenous peoples at the Vatican in April.

“Now is the time for us to really examine how we as a church might look at the ramifications of our sometimes unwitting and sometimes intentional acts of culturalism, racism and all the other sins we could talk about,” Bishop Carol Gallagher said before the vote on the resolution.

The general convention, which the Episcopal Church normally holds every three years, has already been delayed by the pandemic, and the meeting that ended Monday was shortened from eight days to four to minimize the risk of the virus spreading.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry urged committees working ahead of the gathering to focus on resolutions on “matters essential to the governance and good order of the church,” according to Episcopal News Service. The Indigenous Schools resolution passed at this level.

The residential school system was part of a federal government effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples and seize their lands, according to the Interior Department report. Many children suffered physical and emotional abuse, and some died.

Members of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Some shared their experiences officiating at the funerals of children whose remains had been repatriated from the former Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Others spoke of pushing the city of Albuquerque to acknowledge that children had been buried under a public park built on the former site of a boarding school run by the Presbyterian church. Still others shared their experiences as residential school survivors themselves or descendants of survivors.

Navajoland Area Mission Deputy Ruth Johnson attended two boarding schools, an experience she told the House of Representatives that she still struggles to talk about. At first school, Johnson said, she was traumatized when she fell ill and her long hair was cut off. The second she was beaten. “I could easily have been one of those who never went home,” she said.

Gallagher, a member of the Cherokee Nation who serves the Diocese of Massachusetts and the Diocese of Albany, said his grandfather was a residential school survivor. Her family still talk about a visit her parents made to a boarding school when she was a baby, where children who hadn’t seen their mother in years climbed onto her mother’s lap, she said . Some of these children never saw their families again, she said.

“For Indigenous people, listening is always the first step and really hearing the stories and living in the stories and working towards consensus on what comes next,” Gallagher told Religion News Service. “A lot of times churches want to do a quick fix, and that won’t get us anywhere.” That’s why the resolution approved at general convention is important, she said.

The Episcopal Church’s resolution once again expresses the denomination’s support for federal legislation creating a Truth and Healing Commission to address the nation’s residential school history, similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. which was established in Canada.

It also incorporates language from a second resolution recognizing the intergenerational trauma caused by residential schools and directing the denomination to support spiritual healing centers in Indigenous communities. The denomination has budgeted $225,000 for this work.

“This is important work, and it is for all of us,” said Bishop Mark Lattime of the Diocese of Alaska. “You might think your diocese doesn’t have a history of boarding schools with Indigenous peoples and while that may be true, there isn’t a diocese in this church that doesn’t have a history with indigenous peoples.”

Despite the precautions, 26 people tested positive for the coronavirus out of about 1,200 general convention attendees, according to Episcopal News Service. Other denominations have also seen cases of coronavirus as they resumed in-person meetings this summer, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Christian Episcopal Church.

Religious News Service

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