Day of Remembrance and Action

By Sandra Steiner Ball

A 2016 resolution states, the “General Conference of The United Methodist Church affirms the sacredness of American Indian people, their languages, cultures, and gifts to the church and the world.” 

The Boarding School Healing Project has designated October 6 as a Day of Remembrance. On that day in 1879 General Richard Pratt took children from First Nations and opened the boarding school in Carlisle, PA. This year, we call on the Church to observe October 6, 2021 as a day of Truth and Repentance for Our Children. There are concrete acts we can take as followers of Christ to begin a process a healing.

October 6, 2021 can stand as a day of remembrance and action because Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace, Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the world!

  • This date remembers the forcible taking of Native children to the first off reservation boarding school at Carlisle, PA by Captain Pratt in 1879, though compulsory “mission schools” existed long before  
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  • Wear the color orange in solidarity with others standing for truth and standing against violence
  • Hold prayer circles and sacred gatherings to remember our children, inviting others to join
  • Advocate for federal, state and local government and church leadership to search out and make known the truth of the slaughter of our children, people and culture

The artwork* below calls us to justice for our children and healing for our communities.

The artist, Paige McNatt, explains the image above:
“The school is in the background with the children’s moccasins and shorn braids being buried with the truth in the foreground. I wanted to have dark, looming clouds in the sky behind the school to convey the darkness and pain that it represents. I chose to have “justice for our children” behind a yellow, more hopeful part of the sky. On the grass, there are brown spots to show that there are many other holes <where the truth of the devastation has been buried> just like the one in the foreground of the drawing.”

Within the North Eastern Jurisdiction, of which we are a part, once stood the Indian Industrial School Project. According to the website, this school had the dubious distinction of trying to integrate Native Americans into the white culture. The mistaken understanding under which this school operated was that to acculturate and integrate the Native American children, they had to, in the words of the person in charge, Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” They also felt that it was necessary to “transfer the savage born infant to the surroundings of a civilization and he will grow to possess a civilized language and habit.” It was out of this belief that the Carlisle Indian School Project began.

The sad and sinful truth of this reality is that this process denied and tried to eradicate the very essence of what it meant to be a people who appeared to be different than the English. A people who journeyed freely, who understood the land, and who had been part of this land for so much longer than anyone else. The reality of that time in our history was that being different was not to be celebrated but rather to be stamped out.

The focus was on eradicating the heritage, belief, and customs of Native Americans, thus depriving the native children and youth of their identity and heritage.  Life in the Carlisle Indian School Project was not only hard, but it was also deadly for many. Disease and harsh conditions took their toll. Hundreds of children died. In addition, there are still children buried on the site today. Many of those whose name and tribe are only known to God because when the children arrived, they were stripped of their name and tribe and forced to take an English name. They were buried away from their land, their families, and their ancestors. Today, thankfully, there is ongoing work to reunite those children with the earth of their tribes, their mothers, fathers, and their homeland. 

We in the United Methodist Church stand together – hand in hand embracing cultural diversity and celebrating each of our heritages. Together we need to continue to confront the insidious sin of racism and to find pathways to ensure that our children, their children and the children yet to be born will find joy and honor to celebrate who they are – and from whom and where they have come.

Our God is a God who creates diversity with differing hues, differing languages, differing traditions and heritages. Our God is a God who creates all and proclaims it good!

Justice for Our Children; Healing for Our Communities calls us to:

  • Stop burying the truth of the horrific acts of cruelty and deaths of Native children at boarding schools
  • Return our children to their family homelands from mass and individual graves wherever they are
  • Speak the trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation in our communities
  • Persevere in holding governmental, church, and private institutions accountable for restitution

All congregations are encouraged to participate on October 6, in this day of remembrance and action.

*The artwork was commissioned by the Native American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church and sponsored by the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference Committee on Native American Ministries, 2021.