By Kristina Gonzalez
Marigolds and mums. Fall leaves. Pumpkins.
Caution cones at construction sites. Safety vests.
I once had a Pendleton blanket in the 1970s with bright orange and hot pink squares. I wish I still had that blanket.
When you think orange, what comes to mind?
On October 6, the Native American International Caucus and United Methodist Native American Comprehensive Plan among others hope to add ‘justice for our children’ to our thoughts when we think orange. Orange is the chosen color to represent the renewed effort to bring to broader consciousness the forced removal, abuse and death of indigenous children through the residential boarding schools movement. Christian denominations, including Methodists, were active in this ‘genocidal’ practice.
Perhaps the term genocide takes some explanation in this context. We know that children died in residential boarding schools. The recent ‘discovery’ of unmarked graves associated with residential boarding schools in Canada confirms what First Nations, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have known for decades – that children, once removed from their homes, were subjected to brutal treatment and many did not return. We believe the term genocide applies to what was done to these children who were forcibly removed from family and cultural heritage, whether they were returned or not.
Residential boarding schools successfully blocked the transmission of language, culture and spirituality from one generation to another, a successful strategy of forced assimilation. Indigenous communities near and far struggle to regain and reclaim cultural practices stripped through this movement. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People identifies the forced removal of children from one group to another as genocidal.
Now, as the stories told by First Nations, American Indian, Alaska Native and other indigenous communities over generations have physical evidence, the wider culture is more willing to believe and acknowledge the damage. Deep sigh. In the context of our Wesleyan Christian values, how does this happen? God in your mercy…help us repent of that which we justify in your name.
So, orange. Can you wear orange for one day to remember these events, mourn these children, acknowledge the long-suffering of communities whose babies (4 years and beyond) were taken? Can you follow some of the suggestions recommended for this day, as published so well by the Upper New York Annual Conference of The UMC.
You might join the Circle of Indigenous Ministries through Great Spirit UMC in Portland online in its remembrance. If you do, post a photo of your remembrance activities to add to the Circle’s commemoration.
Consider expanding your knowledge of this history in the following ways:
- Watch the video of Rev. Chebon Kernell, Executive Director of the UM Native American Comprehensive Plan, as he speaks on this issue.
- Bookmark the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and keep current on its work.
- Read through this list of Indian boarding schools in the United States, paying attention to the places where you have lived and worked.
- Take the lead of Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, director of the GNW Circle of Indigenous Ministries, who suggests taking the following actions as congregations:
- Learn about the local indigenous people(s) in your context. “Strive to be real allies with Indigenous people(s) and start by uncovering the truth about our own complicity in genocide,” Buck said.
- Find creative ways to join your voices with all those calling for transparency and justice for children and their families subjected to the horrors and brutalities of residential boarding schools. Help us to expose the places where our “missions” (past and present) insist Indigenous peoples reject their own language and cultural practices.
- As the Circle of Indigenous Ministries grows, so too, will the resources available to churches. Bookmark the Circle’s webpage. www.greaternw.org/circle
On October 6, I’ll be wearing orange and joining online to keep before me ‘justice for our children.’ I hope you will as well.
Kristina Gonzalez is the director of innovation for an inclusive church as part of the Greater Northwest Area’s Innovation and Vitality (IV) Team.