Racial Equity

Truth Matters: Facing the History of Native American Boarding Schools

November 22, 2021

When researchers uncovered the unmarked mass graves of more than 1,000 Indigenous children at former residential schools in Canada earlier this year, a global public outcry followed. The news also amplified efforts for the U.S. to launch a nationwide investigation to unearth its own history of cultural and physical abuse at federal and church-run boarding schools for Native American children. A bipartisan bill to launch a national investigation is now before Congress.

Last week, two leaders of these efforts — Christine Diindiisi McCleave, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Nation, and Vance Blackfox, an Indigenous theologian and citizen of the Cherokee Nation — held a public conversation on the history of the Indian Boarding Schools in the U.S. Acknowledging that many of the boarding schools were run by religious institutions, they also spoke about how churches might play a role in the journey towards truth, justice and healing.

The conversation was a part of the 2021 Vine Deloria Jr. Theological Symposium at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Deloria, a Standing Rock Sioux who died in 2005, was a nationally known writer and lawyer who earned a master’s degree from the seminary in 1963. At the symposium, presenters talked about the intersection of Indian boarding schools and theological Christian education as well as the work being done across the United States to bring truth and healing.

Alaska Native children brought to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, 1897. Photo: John N. Choate. Image Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Alaska Native children brought to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, 1897. Photo: John N. Choate. Image Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

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