4 Pentecost Proper 9C
July 3, 2022
The earliest schools for Native Americans were most often mission schools, founded by mostly Christian religious groups in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. In 1819, Congress passed the Indian Civilization Act, in which they paid missionaries to educate Natives and promote the "civilization process."
In some cases, depending on the Christian denomination and the period of history, Native American children were forcefully relocated to these schools, where the United States began assimilating them into the Western way of life.
Thus began the long and harrowing journey of Native American boarding school history that has caused emotional, psychological, spiritual, and cultural trauma for Native Americans that is still felt by current generations.
Various Native American boarding schools were established across the country, the most famous of which was the Carlisle Indian School, built in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Founded by Colonel Richard Henry Pratt, this is where the term "Kill the Indian to save the man" was coined, which represented the belief system behind these schools. The intent was the elimination of Native culture through assimilation. The Carlisle School format became the standard across the country.
Students often wore military-styled uniforms instead of traditional clothing, had their hair cut to reflect western standards, were given Christian names, were forbidden to speak their native languages, and were forcibly baptized and made to adopt Christianity.
Disciplinary punishment in the form of beatings, starvation, and isolation was quite common at these schools. Many accounts of physical and sexual abuse have surfaced. Today, historians, concerned tribal members, as well as the society at large are grieved and angered as more and more is uncovered about what happened in these schools.
Today only 65% of American Native students graduate high school, the lowest graduation rate among any demographic.
These Christian boarding schools were established by 14 denominations, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Quakers being the most common. Five schools were established by Episcopalians and one by Anglicans.
So, what does this uncomfortable and inconvenient truth in American history have to do with our scripture readings today? All four of the readings speak to a particular aspect of human nature which led to misguided efforts to spread the good news of Jesus and the coming kingdom of God.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians warns of short-sighted interpretation of evangelism. While male circumcision isn’t controversial now, it was then. For Jews, circumcision was a symbol of the law handed down from God to Moses, and this continues to remain so in Jewish culture. For Galatians, it was inconceivable to be in community with God, and therefore Jesus, and not be circumcised. Paul was clearly teaching that to be a follower of Christ, circumcision as are all the other cultural trappings such as one’s clothing, cuisine and length of hair are meaningless.
Paul warns that the Law tells us to “bear one another’s burdens.” And, when one thinks they are superior in the eyes of God and when one believes that Jesus has sent them out into the world to make others look, act, and think like them, they are grossly deceiving themselves.
This passage is rich in advice and warnings to those of us who want to be responsible messengers of the Way of Christ. Paul speaks to the balance of Faith vs Works, Grace vs Judgement and Personal Accountability vs Mutual Responsibility, none of which reflect a need to assimilate culture.
And yet, much of this passage has been used to justify arrogance, cultural bias, and mean-spiritedness. The only way I have ever understood the passage, “reap what you sow” has been that that the negative consequences of your mistakes will be, for you, well deserved; basically, you had it coming.
But Paul is saying the opposite. Paul is preaching that as Christians we need to acknowledge our own errors and then respond to them with grace and gentleness. And likewise, respond to the errors of others with the same grace and gentleness.
Paul is not saying that the Law is unimportant; he is saying that the heart of the law is above the letter of the law. The heart of the law is truth and reconciliation that promotes healing and transformation. It is the simple message we focused on last week: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Paul preaches, as he does in most of his letters, that the Law of Christ is following the Way of Christ, which is the Way of compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and joy.
Luke 10 is filled with detailed and specific instructions for how to go out from town to town, and house to house evangelizing the coming kingdom of God. I am reminded of the instructions we give children: look both ways, be polite, pay attention. And the advice we give teenagers about dating, career choices and how to be safe out there when they head off to college.
I have many rules and instruction I use every day in order to get through the day from morning till bedtime without making too many mistakes that can really mess things up for me.
And yet, the spirit of all Jesus’s instruction is simply, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord; or as Bonnie states, “The service has ended and so the service begins.”
Psalm 30 carries this theme so beautifully. This psalm is Daniel’s love song in appreciation for healing, restoration, and health.
Psalm 30:1-4; The Message Bible
I give you all the credit God, you got me out of this mess, you didn’t let my foes gloat.
God, you pulled me out of the grave, when I was down and out you gave me another chance at life.
All you saints! Sing your hearts out to God! Thank him to his face!
He gets angry occasionally, but across a lifetime there is only love. The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.
And another shout out for this lectionary today. 2 Kings includes in the narrative a mention of an unnamed slave girl who brings wisdom, power, and healing when she boldly steps out of her social position to speak truth to power. This idea fosters the challenge to be alert, mindful and listening, to all the voices. This will lead to collaborative problem-solving which again challenges us, asking, who has the answers? Maybe I have something important to offer. Maybe we all have part of the solution. Maybe the solution comes from an unlikely source such as a student, or parent, or a prisoner, or a protestor.
The truth is everywhere and all around because the Spirit is everywhere and all around.
We can only learn and heal from the mistakes we are willing to acknowledge. If we as individuals can learn from our transgressions, so can organizations, churches, and nations learn, change, and transform.
With the 1928 Federal Meriam Report, the public began to become aware of the many atrocities of boarding school life.
Published by the Institute for Government Research, the lengthy and oft-cited document detailed the results of a major study of Indian Tribes, exposing the widespread poverty on reservations, and the poor conditions in Indian schools. This report clearly outlined the inexcusable failure of the church and US government to respond to human suffering among Native children and families.
In the 1930s, as the public became more aware of the issues happening at the boarding schools, the federal government felt the pressure. It began a concerted effort to assimilate Native American students into public schools, or when possible, transform Native schools.
In contrast to the trauma of previous years, transformed Native schools that remained open provided an instrument for family preservation during the difficult era of the Great Depression.
Fortunately, while there are still boarding schools open today, the practices around assimilation, punishment, and "civilizing" are no longer present, and many of these schools are actively involved in teaching language and culture.
Despite the troubled past and the fact that there is still work left to do, some Native American schools are thriving today. These schools, along with the help of federal funding and nonprofit organizations, are trying to reverse the trends by providing a rich, holistic education in a safe environment.
Here are two of many examples:
Red Cloud Indian School.
Established by Jesuit Priests and Franciscan sisters in 1888, Red Cloud Indian school was built in Pine Ridge, S.D. Originally named The Holy Rosary School, it was renamed in 1969 both as a token of respect for the man, Red Cloud, whose work had made it possible to found the school and as part of a program of re-identification meant to demonstrate to the world that Red Cloud was not meant to be an organization of cultural imperialism, but rather the product of a lasting bond between separate cultures who wanted to enhance the best parts of both worlds to serve the people of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
In response to the mass burials discovered in Canada and the United States, Red Cloud Indian School has become one of the leaders in the Truth and Healing movement for boarding schools.
St. Joseph's Indian School, Chamberlin, South Dakota
St Joseph’s provides quality education for more than two hundred Native American children each year. The school was founded in 1927 by Father Henry Hogebach. He and his team enrolled fifty-three students in its first year. St Joesph’s is renowned as one of the finest schools for Native American students in the United States today.
The school’s mission is to partner with Native American families and their children to educate for life — mind, body, heart, and spirit. Culture, language, and Native ceremony are taught alongside the Catholic tradition enriching the Christian experience through cultural expression and community purpose. The wrap-around social services that each student receives honor each student's specific needs as an individual along with their families.
Because families are such an integral part of a child’s education, health and growth, St. Joseph’s Indian School relies on members of a Parent Advisory Committee to provide insight and feedback on programs, services, and challenges.
Some of the beliefs that guide St. Joseph’s approach to students’ care and formation:
- Recognition of the dignity of all people as created in God’s image
- Belief in the student’s ability to progress and advance through strengths-based practice.
- Discipline based on core values such as mutual respect, caring, collaboration, resilience, and possibility
- Courtesy and the restorative values of Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity
- Flexibility based upon a child’s developmental level
- Personal relationships that enhance the opportunity for growth
- An environment that fosters the well-being of students as well as staff members, because help is normative, and harm of any sort is unacceptable
These two schools acknowledge and testify to the power of historical truth as a means for healing. These re-envisioned schools speak to the spirit of Paul’s letter because they apply grace to error, whole-hearted and single-minded devotion to what is good and right, and adherence to the spirit of unity through Jesus Christ our Lord.