Faith

A North American Historical and Contemporary Response to Chinese Boarding Schools 

by Julie and Bill Clark

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

Forgive us

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

Amen

Categories: children, Faith, lament, Peace and Reconciliation, Prayer | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Two Years In

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Two years in

Not normal now 

never will be

Never was

We can’t go back 

Normal was never 

Ever

Normal

For everyone

All we have is

Now

Today

What will we do

With it?

We can’t get our

Dead back

Whether

From disease or

Gun shots

So we must

Grieve and lament

Mental health?

Anyone not 

Been depressed or anxious

Lately?

So we must

Seek peace and community

Two years in

And a million miles away

From what any of us would 

Choose for ourselves, 

Our children

And grandchildren

What choices do we have?

We can choose

Love, kindness, forgiveness 

We can choose a path

Of generosity and peace

We can turn our weapons into

Tools for living, farming, building and

caring for 

One another

It’s time for a new pledge

Not to a flag

But to our Creator

To our common humanity

To the planet we share

A pledge to share our resources

To help those less fortunate 

To make amends

For our wrongs

No more excuses

No more denial

To Restore the earth

To take care of this

Precious planet

We call home

To be makers of peace

Not war

Categories: children, Faith, grief and death, lament, Life, Love, pandemic, Peace and Reconciliation, Poetry, Prayer, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Palm Branches

Here is a reflection poem on Palm Sunday.

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Palm Branches

They thought they knew

How it would all play out

When Messiah came.

When He did come

He did not do what

He was supposed to do.

They did not have room

In their hearts,

Hardened by certainty.

No room for adjusting

And aligning

Their thoughts

Their actions

To God’s.

What about me?

Do I have room?

Or am I so certain

I know the way –

That I miss it?

Mary had a choice.

She heard the invitation

And sat at his feet,

Became a disciple,

Learned 

She had room

In her heart.

Her acceptance

Of the words and teaching

Upturned the Patriarchy,

And helped her brothers

To have room as well.

But the palm waving

Crowds shouting

Hosanna, quickly turned

To Crucify him

When he did not do

What they thought 

He was supposed to do.

Categories: Faith, God, growth, Lent, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Caught Between

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As winter begins 

It’s slow retreat

As blossoms unfold

At an unhurried pace

I find myself 

Wondering

How will it all end?

With a bang 

And a flash

A nuclear waste

An eternal winter or

Never ending fire?

Or will goodness

Once again prevail?

With a slow push

Towards the light

Towards love

With captives

Being freed

With grief and loss

Giving way to hope

And tears of relief

With lessons learned

Will the cycle of life

Begin again?

The little bird chirps

From its perch 

In the tree

“You choose

You choose”

Caught between

Hope and despair 

I choose hope

Categories: Birds, Faith, Hope, Lent, Life, Poetry, Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smuggling Hope

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I dreamt the other night I was in the reception area of a Concentration Camp. It was in Northwest China where the Uyghur and other Central Asian people are going through a genocide. It is a horrible nightmare for them. I left a bag for the young Uyghur man working there. In my dream I had forgotten to get my phone out of the bag so had to go back and find it. In the bag he’d already wrapped a small New Testament I had left in a piece of clothing. I grabbed my phone and left. 

Later as I mulled over this dream I remembered my first trip to China in 1980 with my husband. We were in our early 20’s and working in Hong Kong for the Red Cross. We taught English in a refugee camp for Vietnamese people. During that year we took a trip into China.  In those days it was hardly open to outsiders.  We volunteered with a group that was smuggling Bibles through tourists into Guangzhou. Before our trip a big strong Texan in a cowboy hat  and boots loaded up two suitcases and two carry-on pieces of luggage full of small Chinese Bibles. We could hardly carry the suitcases. We struggled across the border and of course caught the eye of the border security. They looked in those big suitcases and confiscated them. We could pick them up on our way out the next day. They did not look into our hand luggage. So we took them in and dropped them off somewhere in the hotel we were staying for someone to pick up.

We no longer smuggle Bibles into China. We only did that once, but we did move there to teach English in the mid 80’s. We lived in the northwest region and many of our students were Uyghur and Kazakh as well as Han Chinese. I can say we didn’t smuggle Bibles but we did smuggle hope. We had many conversations about God, the purpose of life and each of our belovedness. These conversations brought hope to people who knew there was more to life than what the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) was telling them. Even then their lives were extremely controlled. Where and if they would go to university. What they would study. Where they would work afterwards. They were told what to think and what to believe.

Now the circumstances are quite dire and dangerous if you happen to be Uyghur or Kazakh or any other Central Asian living in northwest China. Since 2017 over a million people have been interned in concentration camps, where they are constantly indoctrinated (brain washed), they are forced to labor for little or no wages, tortured, dehumanized, children separated from their families, sterilized, and the list goes on. 

How can we smuggle hope to these people? It seems impossible, but if they could just know people care and are working in different ways to push back on China for these gross human rights abuses. 

What if we shopped carefully trying to avoid products made in China? Many of which are made or sourced in this region. What if we personally boycotted the Olympics? What if we found the Uyghurs in our nation and reached out to them with some hope, letting them know we see them.  

These are just a few thoughts wondering how regular people like you and me can help end a genocide.

Categories: borderlands, Faith, God, Hope, Life, Love | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Pilgrims Get Weary

On the move again

Grateful for this place

All the beautiful places we have been

Still, it is hard to pick up and leave again

New destination is set

A beautiful part of the state

Awaits exploration

Yet, I am tired

I’m no spring chicken

Packing up and cleaning up

Take a lot of energy

Asking for courage

To take a new unknown path

Ready for whatever lies ahead

May I not waste my small sufferings

On self pity

Praying helps

Remembering those

Forced to flee their homes

Those who have no houses

No place to lay their heads

Instead of self pity 

I choose gratitude and hope

I will be open 

To hear and to see 

The beauty

The messages

The lessons waiting for me

Around the corner

Just ahead

© 2021 Julie Clark

Categories: Autumn Poems, beauty, Faith, growth, Hope, Poetry, Prayer, Travel | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Follow the Thread

Follow the thread of love

It will lead you home

When darkness, evil, fog or fear

Obscure your vision

Wait until you see it again

Don’t move until you do

It will break through

It always does

Move towards it now

And learn to let it

Pass through you

Change and transform you

It takes time

But if you do

It will spread out behind you

Like a trail or a path

Or rays of light

And others will find

Their way home too

© 2021 Julie Clark

Categories: Faith, growth, Love, Paths, Poetry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Shelter

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It is a shelter


To be known and loved


When you are welcome


No matter your faults and foibles


You are loved


A part of the family


The community


You matter


You are connected to these people


We are meant to learn to love


In families


In clans and tribes


But not always the case


In our fragmented society


So we must build bridges


Connections with other human beings


We are connected


With each other after all


Through our ancestors


Our Creator


We all live together on this earth


Our survival and ability to thrive


Depends on it


So smile


Speak a kind word


Bridge the gap


You will see


You will feel


Those connections


Thr knitting of the hearts


Lend a hand


Take a hand

Understand and learn


From each other


Forgive and be forgiven 

Start fresh 

Believe the best

Be your best


We can do this together


Love is real

Categories: Faith, God, Hospitality, Love, Marriage and Family, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ramadan in Memory and Imagination

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In Memory 

I call a few friends

Who used to live in China 

To ask about Ramadan

What foods they shared

For Iftar

And what it meant

It was nutritious and delicious

Huge meals of soup, 

rich and meaty main dishes and

Fresh and dried fruits and nuts

It meant

Love and connection

Solidarity 

With family, friends and neighbors

I find it painful to ask

And painful for them to remember

Since they have left their homeland

Since the lockdown

Since the genocide of their people

They haven’t heard news

Of their families

For too long

They have not heard 

Their voices or their laughter

Or words of hope

That this will end

And life could be normal

And they could celebrate

Ramadan again

With love and connection

Solidarity

With family, friends and neighbors

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In Imagination

(When I lived in a city called Gulja, I remember hearing mothers calling their children to come home. They would sing their names out the doorways or open windows. The children would start making their way home when they heard their names.)

If only I could hear her voice again. She called me from the window, singing my name down the street. The sun had set. I knew it was time to come home and eat the delicious meal she prepared every night for us. I would skip home throwing open the door to find her in her apron serving the food to my father and brother.  She would nudge me to the sink to wash my hands. My father would tussle my hair, my brother would give me a playful punch. We would eat our meal together, savoring the flavors and the love we had for each other. 

In my dreams I hear her calling, singing my name down the street.  I can never find my way home. There is always an ocean to cross or a gate I can’t get through or soldiers blocking my way.

Categories: borderlands, Faith, Hospitality, lament, Love, pain, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Blessing for Open Eyes

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Open our eyes to see

What is happening in our world

To see with eyes that care

About the suffering of others

To see the connections

And understand

Why these things are happening today

Give us insight

And vision 

To see solutions beginning

Small and thin

That lengthen and thicken

Into strong ropes

Strong arms

To lift 

To carry 

To free

© 2021 Julie Clark

Categories: Faith, God, Hope, Lent, Life, Love, Poetry, Prayer | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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