A full scale genocide is taking place now in Northwest China. Uyghur, Kazakh, Tibetan, and other minority families are being traumatized through the assimilationist policies of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These policies include children being forcibly separated from their parents and put in boarding school where they are systematically stripped of their language, culture, and religion. There are estimates of 900,000 children in these schools with a similar number of children in Tibetan regions. However, before we spend the effort to understand the situation in China, it is vital for us, as people of good will in the US and Canada, to examine our own history with Native American boarding schools.
On May 11, 2022 the US Department of the Interior issued a 106 page comprehensive report on the boarding school era. The era began in 1819 and continued until 1969. The US Federal government was responsible for 408 schools scattered over 37 states. Roughly half of these schools were run by Christian denominations. All the schools had a clear mandate of suppressing the language, culture, and indigenous religion of its students. There are both marked and unmarked burial sites at 53 of these schools. The oral histories of living survivors of these schools are vital for understanding the grief of the children and their families. In this short oral history video, it is possible to see the heartache in the story of Andy Windyboy, a Chipawwa Cree American and a boarding school survivor : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDshQTBh5d4
The Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, herself an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, goes on to say, “The consequences of federal Indian boarding school policies—including the intergenerational trauma caused by the family separation and cultural eradication inflicted upon generations of children as young as 4 years old—are heartbreaking and undeniable. We continue to see the evidence of this attempt to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people in the disparities that communities face. It is my priority to not only give voice to the survivors and descendants of federal Indian boarding school policies, but also to address the lasting legacies of these policies so Indigenous peoples can continue to grow and heal.” https://nativenewsonline.net/currents/interior-department-releases-indian-boarding-school-report
It is hard to overestimate the power of a US Cabinet official, who is herself Native American, to speak in such clear language acknowledging the genocidal policy of previous administrations. Of note is that 75% of the Canadian schools were run by the Catholic church and 50% of the American schools were run by Catholic and Protestant groups. The church was deeply complicit in an institution that targeted the most vulnerable members of their Native American neighbors, the children.
The Chinese government spokespersons are already throwing the facts of the historic Native American genocide in our faces, saying we have no moral high ground to criticize their policies towards their indigenous peoples. In this recent China Daily piece the Chinese government spokesperson admonishes the US to heal the trauma caused by the Native American boarding schools: China urges US to adopt serious measures to truly help ethnic minorities get over trauma – People’s Daily Online. Our soul work, as Americans and Canadians, is to first acknowledge our history unflinchingly, and then ask for the Creator’s forgiveness and mercy on us.
When we acknowledge that we are not innocent then we can advocate with integrity for the children and their families currently suffering under these genocidal policies in China.Survivors of the North American boarding schools say, “the first step of healing is acknowledgement”. Let’s make that healing start together. Below is a prayer of lament we have written to help us get started:
Lament for the Native American Boarding Schools
Creator have mercy on us and hear our prayers
As we become more aware of the sins of our ancestors
Towards the Native Americans of this nation
Help us to acknowledge the harm we have done
Help us to not delay any longer the healing
Native Americans and our nation needs
Creator hear our prayers and have mercy on us
For the harm we have done
For the trauma we have caused to many generations
By forcing Native American children into boarding schools
By trying to erase their language, culture, and religion
We acknowledge and repent of these great wrongs
Forgive us in your great mercy
For snatching children away from their mothers and fathers
From their grandparents and extended families
From their community and their customs, religion and language
We confess our nation has sinned against Your children
For the physical, sexual, emotional abuse these children endured
For the sickness and deaths that occured
For the generational trauma that continues to this day
Many of these abuses were done in the name of Christ by the church.
We confess we have sinned against these children and families
Using your name
We ask for forgiveness for thinking our English language was better
For thinking our customs and culture was better
For the arrogance we displayed
For the great harm we have done
We ask for forgiveness
We ask for healing for all those harmed by this practice
I visited the Mukai Farm and Garden remembering and honoring the Japanese community that lived and farmed strawberries here before WWII. They were taken away during the war to internment camps. As I strolled the gardens there was a labyrinth with lanterns hung and intermittent Haiku streaming from pages strung with clothes pins as well. I was inspired to write these poems below.
Growing fields of strawberries
Taken and interned
War has many faces
Death and life roll through the land
Tears flow unending
When will we return?
Children speak our unspoken words
Can hearts hope again?
Some return, rebuild
Life twists and turns with the sun
Trauma stays within
We took several hikes, this one runs along Shingle Mill Creek to Fern Cove.
I have been hearing this phrase more and more lately. It’s a handy little phrase. I’ve used it myself many times when I am struggling to understood an issue or a situation. It is true that life is complicated, human beings are complicated, but I feel like this phrase can be used now as an excuse, a way of not getting involved. It is a way of distancing oneself from a messy perhaps dangerous situation. There are numerous situations going on around the world that are both messy and dangerous.
I wonder in a revised version of the Good Samaritan story if one of the religious leaders who crossed the street away from the poor guy beaten and left for dead may have mumbled to himself as he hurried away – “It’s complicated…maybe he deserved what he got or maybe he has a contagious disease, or worse if I stop and help maybe someone will get me next!”
Last night I attended a vigil, calling for an end of the inhumane detention of immigrants in our country. I was heartened to see the church where the vigil was hosted packed out. More and more people are outraged at the news that is coming out and wanting to get involved or at least learn about what is happening. It was helpful to hear from women who themselves endured the indignity of being locked up and treated as a criminal. (No it is not illegal to seek asylum.) Both women mentioned how terrible it was to witness the way children were treated. One saw the the agents tearing children away from their parents.
There are numerous things we can do to help. We can raise our voices for the voiceless. We can contact our representatives both federally and locally. We can volunteer, we can donate, we can educate ourselves and help others understand. We each can do something.
Let faith have wings that lift us to pray
Let hope have eyes that look for solutions
Let love have feet that move us to action
May we take a risk to love our neighbors who are in great need rather than turn our backs on them because “it’s complicated”.
I do not know what the answers are to good immigration reform. I need to learn. I do know inhumane treatment of immigrants is not one them. Another phrase I am hearing that I like much better is “This is not a political issue it is a moral issue.”
Today I am adding my voice to many who are speaking up for the children being separated from their parents at our borders. I am appalled, grieved and angry. I know this is not the first time our nation has done this, but I pray that it will be the last. I pray that men and women in our government will take responsibility and quickly return these traumatized children to their parents. Children are being used as political pawns all over the world and they need us all to speak up for them. Today is not the time to be silent or sit and watch from the sidelines.