By Freida J. Jacques from Onondaga Nation
It makes sense to me that now the Church of Christianity needs to make commitments to begin a campaign to undo the damage done by instilling the belief in white superiority in those they have influenced over the many years of Christian evangelization. The Christian Church in Europe developed in a culture that favored what was seen as the superior white race. Wherever the church went, the forces of dominance and belief in European white superior culture became the motivation for churches to assist in the colonization of all cultures it encountered. These ideas and beliefs went right along with the other more positive teachings of the church.
There are thousands of churches existing in all parts of the world. In these churches are many kindhearted people who can be a part of the campaign to change the effects of domination and undo the belief in white superiority. I encourage all churches to take responsibility to help those who carry hate and misunderstanding to heal and let go of their dangerous attitudes and beliefs. After all, isn’t it a purpose of the church to help people become better human beings? This is a preventative effort to heal hearts and minds to make a kinder future for all indigenous people. I would consider this effort a priority in the healing needed between the Indigenous people and those seeking reconciliation after this very difficult history we share.
Today, the after effects of domination and the belief in white superiority are still very painful for the indigenous world. Having dealt with their lands being overrun, stolen, having their people killed, raped, and uprooted, indigenous people have had to deal with many, many traumas and hardships. Native folks have put a lot of work into healing from the effects of colonization, some from generational trauma, others from harm done today. Some have not healed.
With the recent discovery of thousands of unmarked graves in Canada, there has been an awareness of the horrible effects of boarding schools on Native families. This awareness has awakened the cries for apologies from the churches who often took grants to run these boarding schools for the federal government in the U.S. as well as Canada. Many Christian denominations have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery and some have apologized for their participation in the boarding school era. The Catholic Bishops of Canada have made a special request of Pope Francis to apologize for the involvement in Indigenous boarding schools. Pope Francis did just that in a beautiful and thoughtful letter on March 31, 2022. Apologies can be empty without an effort towards change.
The U.S. has only recently started to look into how the boarding school era affected Native children and families within America’s borders. It wasn’t until 1978, with the Indian Child Welfare Act, that Native American families could refuse to have their children sent to an Indian Boarding School. The effects of these schools spanned generations. The effects were horrible for parents whose children were never seen again. Parents whose children came home changed in many ways, many carrying rage from what happened to them. Many Americans want the government to find those who participated in the damage done to the children who attended the Indian Boarding Schools. Many seek punishment for these people. I see very little change for humanity when only a few guilty people are sought out and punished for their crimes.
I encourage those who will be searching for information about these boarding schools to interview persons who attended them but also to interview those who worked in them. Although there may not be many staff people who are still alive who witnessed the atrocities, it is worth finding them. When I think about the kind of damages done and especially when I think of those children in the unmarked graves, this is what I think of: Someone knew the child died, someone prepared the earth for burial, someone carried the child to the grave, and then they were told to keep this all secret. These people carrying these memories for years are traumatized as well.
There have been protests recently of many Native Women who have vanished and some murdered (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – MMIWG) with very little investigation from authorities in Canada as well as in the United States. Authorities may also be a part of the history of abuse and death in Indian Boarding Schools for they may be implicit in not reporting incidents that could have been investigated at the time. Perhaps because these were Native children, the crimes committed were not even seen as worth investigating.
I believe that hatred and negative belief systems in people can be held in place by unexpressed emotions and memories connected to traumatic incidents. I suggest they be given a safe place to express what beliefs they carry and share where these beliefs come from. They can be encouraged to share the feelings that come from these memories. Although difficult, a person can eventually intentionally release strong unexpressed emotions. This can help unburden them from emotions that negatively affect their beliefs about Native people. In this way, hopefully they can begin their journey of healing.
There are those who carry hate that has been taught to them through their lifetimes. They may have been surrounded by a homogenous population of people like themselves. These ideas are less likely to change in a homogenous situation like this. I suggest that churches seek out people who have worked in this area of cultural change to find ways to confront white supremacy and guide these people toward recovery from hate.
As I said before, my ideas come from a need to seek real change in many people. I encourage all Christian denominations to take responsibility to work and help those who carry hate and misunderstanding to heal and let go of their dangerous attitudes and beliefs.
Here is a list of healing steps that can be used as a guide to help people who carry hurtful ideas and even hatred toward Native people. I have made this list by thinking of my own steps toward healing and recovery and thinking of how these steps toward healing would look like from the opposite vantage point. Hopefully individuals can achieve enough self-understanding and intention to at least:
Admit and tell the harmful beliefs or values they have carried. Share this information with others in their circle of caring friends, counselors, and/or spiritual mentors with intention to lessen their anger and release their emotions in safe conditions.
Admit and tell if they physically harmed a Native person or raped a Native person.
Have regret for these attitudes, values or actions.
Resolve not to carry these values or beliefs into the future.
Resolve never to harm another as they have in the past.
In non-invasive ways, learn to be an ally.
When you hear words of hatred, speak up and stifle this talk. Just like in working against bullying, not tolerating the atmosphere of hate is an important effort.
Be an ally who will speak up when they see that the colonizer’s system is once again threatening Native people’s well-being and existence.
Editorial Collective note: We are very grateful to Freida J. Jacques for offering this insight and motivation toward healing. We think this article is an incredible contribution to Pummarola and appreciate her generosity.