Home Christian News U.S. Churches Reckon With Traumatic Legacy of Native Schools

U.S. Churches Reckon With Traumatic Legacy of Native Schools

In Canada, where more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools over more than a century, a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 3,201 deaths amid poor conditions.

The United Church of Canada, which operated 15 such schools, has apologized for its role, opened its archives and helped identify burial sites.

The Catholic Church’s response in Canada remains controversial. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June that he was “deeply disappointed” the Vatican has not offered a formal apology. Pope Francis expressed “sorrow” following the discovery of the graves and has agreed to meet at the Vatican in December with school survivors and other Indigenous leaders.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meanwhile, said it would look for ways to assist in the Interior Department’s inquiry.

“We cannot even begin to imagine the deep sorrow these discoveries are causing in Native communities,” spokeswoman Chieko Noguchi said.

The Jesuit-affiliated America Magazine is urging U.S. Catholic bishops not to repeat their mishandling of cases of child sex abuse by priests.

“The church in the United States must demonstrate that it has learned from … such failures,” the magazine said in an editorial.

Other churches have addressed their legacy to varying degrees.

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) traveled to Utqiagvik, Alaska, in 2017 to deliver a sweeping apology before a packed school auditorium for the treatment of Indigenous persons in general, and specifically for how it operated the boarding schools.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, former stated clerk for the denomination, told the gathering that the church had been “in contempt of its own proclaimed faith” in suppressing Native spiritual traditions amid its zeal to spread Christianity. “The church judged when it should have listened.”

The United Methodist Church held a ceremony of repentance in 2012 for historic injustices against Native peoples. In 2016, it acknowledged its role in the boarding schools in tandem with a government effort to “intentionally” destroy traditional cultures and belief systems.

Still, the Native American International Caucus of the United Methodist Church recently urged the church to do more “to uncover the truth about our denomination’s role and responsibility in this reprehensible history.”

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

This article originally appeared here.

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Peter Smith is a journalist for the Associated Press.